An Interview with Emma Palmer | LGBT Great's New Head Of Talent And Organisational Development

Emma (she/her) is an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion professional with experience in commercial and not-for-profit organisations. She has a particular focus on LGBTQ+ inclusion, anti-racism, and intersectionality. Emma has worked with several businesses throughout the U.K promoting inclusive workplace cultures through speaking, workshops, training, and consultancy. Before she started working in EDI, Emma spent 8 years as a police officer in the Metropolitan Police Service in London. As an accomplished, compassionate, and purposeful leader, Emma applies an intersectional lens to her work and has an excellent record of achievement as a strategist and cultural creator within organisations such as Stonewall, NHS, and Sainsbury’s.

In 2018, Emma had the opportunity to deliver the Stonewall LGBTQ+ Role Models Programme in Australia at The Better Together Leadership Academy in partnership with The Equality Project. Emma was invited back to Better Together in 2023 as a guest speaker at Better Together, Australia’s 5th National LGBTQ+ Conference, and spoke on the International Panel about the LGBTQ+ landscape in the U.K.

As a Mixed-Heritage Black gay woman, Emma uses her own lived experience and strategic insights to drive social change, help organisations shape consciously inclusive cultures and support people to understand equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging at all levels. She is also on the Board of Trustees at LGBTQ+ Young Persons’ Trust, Mosaic, where she helps to advise on the strategic aims of the organisation, so that the most effective services can be delivered to LGBTQ+ young people across London. Emma is incredibly excited to be joining LGBT Great and contribute to advancing LGBTQ+ talent and inclusion.


Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brings you to the business?

I have worked in the EDI space for several years since leaving my previous career as a police officer. I also co-host my own podcast called You & Us and we explore everything that is going on around us today in Britain and beyond. I grew up in London and from an early age have always been alive to social justice issues. I’m also in the process of studying for my ILM 7 Executive Coaching Qualification, which I am really enjoying. Due to some of the experiences I had growing up, it was these things that motivated me to do the work I do now.

As a Mixed-Heritage Black woman, the mixed experience is a complex one because you can constantly be navigating between several truths that co-exist. A person can experience both privilege and racism. I spent several years walking this middle world and not really feeling like I fitted into either so to finally be able to step into the strength of both my cultures and feel the most comfortable I have ever felt in my skin, is a huge accomplishment. LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, culture change and community building through an intersectional lens, are areas that I care deeply about. There are lots of exciting things happening at LGBT Great and stepping into this newly defined role will hopefully give me the opportunity to contribute to help shaping where we go next.


Why do you think LGBTQ+ DE&I is important for financial services?

The financial services industry has made great strides in recent years, but there is still lots more to do. It is a sector that crosses the lives of most people all over the world, and with the LGBTQ+ community ever growing, it is important that financial services continue to ensure their products and services are inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and that momentum maintains to continuously reflect internally the society it serves.


What does it mean to you to be part of the LGBTQ+ community?

It is never lost on me that I am standing on the shoulders of those who came before. It is because of them that I can live freely as my true self. So, being part of the LGBTQ+ community is more than just a label to me, it is one part of my identity that sits rooted in joy. The joy and acceptance that I felt ‘coming out’ was because of the struggle those who came before me faced. As a member of the community, I feel nothing but strength and pride.


What are you hoping to achieve in your first 100 days?

The first cohort of our newly launched intern programme will be completing their 3 months with us at the end of April, so priority one is to capture their experience of the programme through feedback and identify any key learnings. Following this, I will be leading on LGBT Great’s first ever employee engagement survey. Our commitment to sharpening our focus on what we want our culture to look and feel like is key to fostering employee engagement and belonging in the workplace.


Why is intersectionality important?

Having an intersectional lens is a vital part of advancing any sort of EDI work and it is something I take into the practice of what I do.

The word intersectionality exists by circumstance through the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist. Crenshaw was representing a Black woman at an employment tribunal who was discriminated against because of her race and gender. Because the organisation employed white women in some areas and Black men in another, the judge failed to look at the intersections of her being a Black woman of working-class background and did not believe she was discriminated against due to these identities. If they did, they would have seen that her experiences as a Black woman would have been different to the people the judge was comparing her to.

The law did not take into consideration she could be discriminated against based on both race and gender or a combination of the two. Oftentimes the term intersectionality is misunderstood in the context of equity, diversity, and inclusion work. When we use the word intersectionality, we must look at the functions of how discrimination and oppression exist under racism, sexual orientation, class etc. Therefore, it is important to understand that intersectionality is rooted through the lack of experience and discrimination caused to a Black woman, and when used, people know the legacy behind it.

It has become a buzz word and there is a danger of it being used to tick boxes rather than its true meaning - which is that our identities intersect, compound each other and impact how we move in the world. Having an intersectional lens on things will help us delve deeper into why people have different experiences and make it easier to identify what barriers need to be removed to create systems of equity.