The British Council have asked us to consider: What is the most powerful example of leadership you have seen in your own country? In answering the question, I have written an ode to a leader I’ve never met, but who’s impact I have admired from afar.
I am inspired by Ruth Hunt and her leadership of Stonewall, an organisation that campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people across Britain. I have never worked with Ruth, but I have followed Stonewall’s approach for some time and I am consistently impressed by the tales of people who work with her.
I’d like to focus on four areas where Ruth Hunt and Stonewall stand out.
Firstly, Stonewall’s current commitment to trans rights. This is far from straight forward. Some of the fiercest opposition to trans equality comes from within the LGBT+ community. And the misinformation surrounding this issue persists, with the mainstream media often amplifying it. Yet Stonewall has not wavered in their support for trans equality.
In the face of significant challenge, they made a principled and early decision to rally political and public support behind this issue – epitomising their promise to deliver ‘acceptance without exception’. They have also put trans voices front and centre – recognising their responsibility to cede power to this community. This has delivered an impressive movement for change, rooted in the experience of those affected.
Since hearing Ruth speak during an ‘away day’ in my old role at Shelter, I have been impressed by her strategic vision and focus. Stonewall is a small organisation that punches above its weight. It is able to do this by prioritising long-term change over short-term, headline-grabbing, wins – and by pointing all its efforts towards one clear strategic aim. The current campaign on Trans Equality is evidence of this: all Stonewall’s public channels and political lobbying are focussed on this one, clear goal.
I am also impressed by Stonewall’s willingness to forge new and unexpected partnerships to deliver equality. Recognising that the fight for LGTB+ equality lies in education, under Hunt’s leadership Stonewall has built partnerships with schools, and deepened their engagement with employers. This approach has helped to embed LGTB+ rights within homes and communities. By reaching hundreds of thousands of ordinary Britons, Stonewall has not only changed attitudes, it has built powerful coalitions of support that can be rallied behind crucial policy change.
All the successes above are Stonewall’s successes – which is indicative of a humble approach to leadership that is about empowering teams and people to deliver change. From friends and former colleagues who work with Hunt, it is clear that staff members are supported to develop and encouraged to lead. The best leaders are looking to develop the next generation and to sustain their organisation, building and growing their teams to deliver lasting change. Hunt embraces this wholeheartedly.