Speech to the GLEN 2017 Senior Leaders’ Networking Evening

24th January, 2017

Good evening everyone- it is lovely to be here with you tonight to network, to discuss and especially to celebrate this senior leaders’ event with GLEN, with EY and with you all.


I want to thank Mike and all here in EY for hosting us, to thank Davin for spearheading the programme and to congratulate Aine on her appointment as CEO of GLEN.


I say this is a celebration because we should never forget that it is less than two years since Ireland made that great, loving, generous statement at the ballot box by voting to extend the right to marry to our gay family members, friends and colleagues.


Same-sex marriage is now known by its proper title- marriage.


But, of course, that referendum result was never the end of the road of those of us who strive to make our society truly equal.


It was, rather, a staging post and the need to ensure that we can all be who we truly are in all aspects of our lives.


Because, whether you are married or not, the chances are that you will spend as much time with your colleagues as you will with your husband or wife – a thought that is as interesting as it is scary!


So being out in work, being comfortable in your own skin, is vital to ensuring we work better, but more importantly, that we are all happy and fulfilling our own potential.




That is why GLEN’s Diversity Champions programme is so important.


I first met with GLEN during 2016 and talking to Davin gave us all an insight into how inclusive work practices can offer our LGBT staff a workplace that feels safe and welcoming irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.


We, in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, are confident and excited by the benefits in our workforce that we see as part of membership of this Network.


Working with GLEN within our own Department and, as is our intention, across the civil service has the potential to be very positive for our staff, our employers and ultimately the public that we serve.


That said, LGBT inclusion may require a degree of cultural change.


We may need to think differently, act differently and work differently to ensure that all of us truly feel part of the team.


However, I am confident this can be achieved through our commitment to inclusive work practices and becoming a GLEN Diversity Champion has sent a clear signal to the organisation that we value our LGBT employees.


Our HR team is committed to embracing diversity throughout our employees’ careers and has made great progress in embedding inclusive work practices into the recruitment and selection, integration and employee engagement processes.


Our engagement with GLEN has been fundamental in supporting the development of LGBT inclusion.


We have also gained invaluable insights from business leaders in the field of diversity and inclusion across the private and public sectors.


Many of you are here in the room today.


We can identify with organisations like ESB, Trinity College and Eir in terms of our history, culture, organisational structures and the barriers that we face when bringing forward transformational initiatives.


Your stories have inspired us.


Through our engagement with Diversity and Inclusion leaders in the private sector such as EY and Accenture, we have yielded some excellent insights into strategies, programmes of work and best practice.


You have also inspired our efforts.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for opening your doors and for sharing your perspectives, journeys and experiences with us.




If I might talk a little about my own profession for a moment. For the last few years, I have been very proud to walk with my own Fine Gael party’s LGBT group at Dublin Pride, and I know that many of you have marched and will march again this June with your own companies and community organisations.


I was there not just with my Party colleagues and many of my Cabinet colleagues, but also with my own family.


And I remember being struck by how LGBT people and their friends expressed not only pride in themselves but also in the hope that our country would continue to become a better place for all LGBT citizens to live.


Ireland, I believe, is a more welcoming place for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people than it once was.


But this did not happen by accident. It happened because of the bravery of many individuals in coming out and living openly as they wish to. It happened because of individuals like you have come out in work, promoted LGBT visibility and made us all think about what needs to be done to ensure work places are welcoming places.


Just as it is important that gay people get involved in politics, so too is visibility at work by members of the LGBT community a hugely important development.


It is a vital step in making Ireland a fair and equal society and you should all be hugely proud of the role you have played in that.




I am, amongst other things, the Minister with responsibility for the civil service and I am determined to do all I can to ensure that the civil service is an inclusive workplace with equality and dignity as a core value.


With this in mind we introduced an updated anti-bullying, harassment and sexual harassment policy for the Irish civil service, entitled Dignity at Work, in February, 2015.


The key aims of this policy are:


  • To achieve a work environment where dignity and respect are to the forefront of our values;
  • To create an environment where bullying, harassment and sexual harassment are not tolerated in any form; and
  • To ensure that each individual is aware of his/her responsibility to behave in a way that reflects a culture of dignity and respect.


Looking at my own Department specifically, we are ourselves Diversity Champions and are working with GLEN to expand the DC programme into other Departments and Government bodies.


And our DPER People Strategy 2017 – 2020, that we are currently developing in consultation with staff across the Department, will support a variety of initiatives aimed at embedding diversity and inclusion practices into the business while also supporting the organisation to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.




You may all have been watching political developments in other countries over the last few months, or even the last few days, with a degree of trepidation. 2017 may also see election results that challenge our faith in the shared values of tolerance and inclusion.


But for politicians like me, who govern from the centre and believe in internationalism and the celebration of diversity, I believe we should not be downhearted.


One of the reasons I am not downhearted is that I am at this event tonight that twenty or even ten years ago could not have happened.


I am struck about how, not so long ago, being out at work was simply not an option for most gay people. Even those lucky enough to have been accepted by their family and friends- and many were not- saw coming out in their jobs as a bridge too far.


I believe that led to many careers being cut short, and many employees not going as far as they could go in their professional lives.


But it also meant that companies and organisations were deprived of those talents, of those ideas and that energy.


I hope and believe that the Diversity Champions programme will change that.


Harvey Milk, one of the original diversity champions from San Francisco said: ‘If I do a good job, people won’t care if I am green or have three heads’.


I hope he is smiling down on us tonight.


Thank you.