Stonewall defends diversity scheme after media regulator quits citing ‘risk of perceived bias’

The charity expressed sadness that involvement in a programme to support inclusive workplaces for LGBTQ+ employees “should be in any way regarded as an unimpartial act”

Stonewall logo
Stonewall logo

The LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall has defended the impartiality of its diversity scheme after the UK’s media regulator announced it would no longer participate in it due to a “risk of perceived bias”.

Ofcom said it had decided to step back from its membership of the Diversity Champions programme after a review of its relationship with the charity.

It said its participation in the programme had laid the foundations for improving the support it provides for its LGBTQ+ colleagues, and left it confident it can move ahead positively while no longer being a member.

The regulator will continue to be part of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which is a benchmarking tool for employers to measure their progress on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace.

The charity still supports more than 900 organisations to help create LGBTQ+ inclusive workplaces, but organisations including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Cabinet Office have also quit the scheme over the past few months.

Ofcom said it had made the decision because of the “significant scrutiny” the charity’s policy positions have come under in recent months.

In a statement, it said: “In Ofcom’s case, we have considered whether our relationship with Stonewall poses a conflict or risk of perceived bias.

“Stepping back from the Diversity Champions programme, in light of this, is the right thing to do.

“As the communications regulator, an important part of our responsibility is to ensure we remain impartial and independent at all times.

“Our commitment to supporting the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people is as strong as ever.”

Stonewall said that since it set up the scheme in 2001, many large employers have developed major internal programmes to promote diversity and inclusion and make the workplace better for LGBTQ+ people.

The scheme continues to grow across a range of sectors, the charity said. It added 30 new members from 1 June 2020 to 1 June 2021.

Stonewall said it respected Ofcom’s decision and would continue to work with it in its role as media regulator.

“It is sad, however, that involvement in a programme that supports an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees should be in any way regarded as an unimpartial act,” said a charity spokesperson.

“As with every membership programme, organisations come and go depending on what works best for their inclusion journey at the time, and we’re very proud of the work we’ve done with Ofcom and wish them the best in their ongoing efforts to support all of their LGBTQ+ employees.

“It’s a simple human right that everyone, including LGBTQ+ staff, is free from discrimination and prejudice at work, and our Diversity Champions programme is one way for organisations to be supported in this.”

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