Nick O’Reilly on how to drive EDI through networks and allyship

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By :
Andrew Jukes

As part of our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion ‘Lunch & Learn’ series, Keystream talked with Nick O’Reilly, Chief Technology Officer at NHS Business Services Authority to find out what being an LGBTQ leader means in 2021.

Nick’s tech career began in the late 1980s when the gay community was dealing with the AIDs crisis and all the prejudice that came with it.  It’s easy to think that those days are long gone, however very real challenges still exist for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.  Nick highlighted several anecdotes from his experience, some of which were more recent than you may think:

  • He was told he ‘couldn’t be gay because he liked football’
  • He was forced to make a choice between being an LGBTQ+ activist or a Manager
  • He lost out on a job because he’d worn earrings at final interview stage.

These clearly demonstrate the pervasiveness of attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community.  They are a reminder that we all need to think about every conversation we have at work, every day, and evaluate whether it’s appropriate. 

Being a better ally

One of the core aims of Keystream’s EDI initiative is to be the best possible allies to groups with lived experience. We were keen to understand what Nick thinks makes a good ally and, just as importantly, what makes a bad one. 
“Good allies are positive and proactive; they help change a culture, but they also listen.” 
Emphatically, Nick put listening first. It’s essential to let the diversity group lead on what support they need and for the allies to follow this guidance to avoid doing ‘more harm than good’.
Organisations often do things for the wrong reasons, for example to be ‘seen to be doing something’, and this can be counter-productive.

Creating Networks

Within the workplace, Nick believes one of the most effective actions employers can take is to establish networks. The NHS BSA currently has four diversity networks - LGBTQ+, BAME, Disability & Neurodiverse and Women. The networks serve four broad purposes:
They bring together people from different areas of a business who wouldn’t otherwise meet, giving them a platform to offer and receive mutual support.
To facilitate sharing of ideas between networks so each group can provide allyship to each other.
Improve visibility of the diversity group and enable them to influence the organisation at a more senior level.
Create a formal consultation channel so that the groups most affected by internal policy changes surrounding diversity & inclusion are involved in writing and reviewing them.

Nick also emphasised the importance of networks running both closed and open meetings, creating a combination of dedicated spaces just for members of the diversity group and the opportunity for allies to join in, listen and learn – supporting their allyship journey.

The power of sharing

Continuing to raise the issues, highlight inequality and challenge prejudice everywhere is paramount. Nick’s advice is to communicate with all of your supply chain, partners and clients to share your EDI content, events, resources and practices. 
Go further, and encourage collaboration so that all organisations, from large employers like the NHS to small businesses, have the right knowledge, tools and procedures to prevent EDI from being a mere box ticking exercise.

Nick’s underlying message is that we are all on this journey together. We all need to start viewing diversity and inclusion as a business essential, baking it into an organisation’s culture, practice and DNA.

Nick O’Reilly started his career at a range of local government organisations before joining NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) as CTO in 2016. He’s responsible for the implementation of several key projects across the IT & Digital teams. He has been instrumental in pushing forward networks within NHS BSA for underrepresented groups – BAME, LGBTQ+, Disability & Neurodiversity and Women, and is a champion of LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace.

If you want to find out more about inclusion & allyship, he recommends this presentation.


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