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Hello from the Government Equalities Office

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I joined the Government Equalities Office (GEO) a year ago, and I think it’s a brilliant job – and a brilliant time to be doing it. So many people inside and outside government are interested in equality and diversity, and are trying to understand what they need to do to make progress.

Hilary Spencer, Director of the Government Equalities Office

Hilary Spencer, Director of the Government Equalities Office

What we’re here to do

Our job as the GEO is to work out how best to make sure that equality is promoted and protected. We have a particular focus on women, and on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. We want to make sure that people have an equal chance to succeed, irrespective of their gender or their sexuality.

The UK has strong equalities legislation, and we are continuing to develop and refine different parts of the legislation to make sure it stays current in a rapidly changing world.

However, lots of the challenges to equality are more about behaviour – how people interact with one another, what roles we expect people to play, what we think is normal, and how we treat people as individuals.

So we have programmes of work focused on some of these key issues: closing the gender pay gap, increasing the number of women on boards, tackling prejudice-based bullying in schools, and supporting people returning to work after time out of the labour market, to name but a few.

There are lots of organisations and groups trying to tackle some of these problems, and we’re keen to learn from what they’re doing. I want us to be real experts in what is genuinely effective in promoting equality. So, we’re building an ambitious research programme to develop our evidence base.

We would welcome other people’s contributions here, and a future blog post will set out more detail on how we would like to engage with expert researchers and practitioners.

Celebrating progress made so far

An important element of our work is celebrating the progress that has already been made on equalities: sometimes it can be easy to forget how much has changed relatively quickly in the UK. Learning from the past also helps us shape our future work and priorities.

This July, we are planning major activity around Pride, and marking fifty years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. This was a major milestone in our national history, and we really want to acknowledge and celebrate that – but we also know there is still much more to do to make Britain a consistently great place to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and we are working to achieve that.

Another major milestone in the year ahead is celebrating a hundred years since women first got the vote in the UK. The Representation of the People Act in 1918 gave many more men and the first women the right to vote (although if you were a woman, you needed to be over 30 and own property). It was a landmark piece of legislation that reflected the profound social changes that were crystallised in the first World War. The most recent election saw the highest ever number of women elected to Parliament – so now 32% of MPs are female – and the highest number of openly LGBT MPs elected to any parliament in the world1. This is progress we should and will celebrate, but again there is still more to do to make sure that public life is representative of the wider population.

And by 5 April 2018 every employer with 250 or more employees should have reported their Gender Pay Gap data on the Government’s reporting website. I’m delighted that the Department for Education, of which the GEO is a part, is the first Government department to publish its pay gap. We will be publishing a blog from our Permanent Secretary, Jonathan Slater about this soon.

Get involved

This is a great time to be working on equalities – I am really proud to be part of the GEO, and to be working with a team of such passionate and talented people.

I would really encourage you to get involved with what we’re doing. There will be lots of blog posts coming up over the months ahead on key areas of our work, and we would welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas.

Please leave a comment or get in touch if you want to know more about GEO, or you’d like to share your ideas or experiences with us. We’re always keen to hear more about what we can be doing or how our work is having an impact.

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