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Bringing my whole self to work at the Met Office

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Diversity & Inclusion, Guest Blog

While workplace policies and rules around discrimination may seem secondary to the day job, the Met Office’s consistently forward-looking policies have allowed me to bring my whole self to work and enabled my career to flourish.

Starting my career in the Met Office

I joined the Met Office way back in August 2002 as a graduate fresh out of university. My first day at work was just as you’d expect, meeting people, trying to work out how to use the computer systems, finding my way around. However, it was different in one respect. On my first day, after I’d got my login details the first thing I did was to look up the HR pages because I wanted to know one thing, namely whether I could get sacked for being gay here (a practice which was still legal until 2003). I’d already made the decision that I would be out at work – I’d been out for quite a while by then and had no intention of going back in the closet – but I wanted to know how attached I should be to my new job, should I view it as a possible long term commitment or just a stop-gap? I was so relieved when I read through the policy and found that it was ahead of its time! I came out to my team in afternoon coffee break that day and I’ve been out to my colleagues ever since.

Dr Helen Wells: Head of Observations Research & Development in the Met Office

Another task on my to-do list as a new starter was to decide which Civil Service Pension scheme to choose (at the time the options were Classic or Premium). While colleagues were considering all sorts of pros and cons of the schemes, my decision was simplified by the fact that Classic would only provide benefits to a spouse rather than partner. As neither civil partnerships nor marriage were an option at the time payments to a spouse would have been useless to me, so I quickly opted for Premium. Little did I know that civil partnerships would come in 2004 followed by marriage equality in 2013.

An inclusive workplace

Throughout 17 years in the Met Office, my colleagues have been fabulous. They were great when I had my wedding back in 2009 and gave me a lovely card. They were great when I went on paternity leave (I did send in a heavily annotated form that hadn’t quite caught up with the times, but HR were lovely about that and made some changes to it) and great when I went on maternity leave a few years later.

More recently a fellow LGBT colleague got hold of some rainbow lanyards and offered me one. These struck me as a great way to show support for LGBT colleagues across the office: similar to Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces in sport, and I happily accepted the lanyard. Although it was my choice to wear one, what surprised me was how nervous I felt putting it on. At that stage I’d worked here, and been out, for 16 years and I had never had any issues at work with my sexuality, indeed the opposite – I felt that our polices and processes were ahead of legislation and that our work culture was more open and welcoming than wider society. Why then did I feel so nervous putting on my lanyard? On reflection I think it was because I usually choose who I come out to and that putting on my lanyard took away that choice from me. Even today, outside of work, if I want to show affection in public then I am very aware of what is going on around me and if I think it is risky then I don’t do it – especially if my kids are with me. So I’m used to controlling that choice about coming out and the lanyard takes away that choice. Despite my nerves I put it on and I’ve only had compliments from colleagues (and a few questions about where to get one for themselves).  I can honestly say that I feel blessed to work in such an accepting and welcoming place – that’s why I’m still here after so long!! Inclusive workplace policies have allowed my career at the Met Office to thrive. Consider your organisation’s workplace policies – what can you do to ensure they are inclusive as possible?

Get involved!

We welcome everyone’s support in helping the Government Science and Engineering profession to lead the way on inclusion and diversity and would encourage you to become an LGBT+ ally.

Learn more about becoming an LGBT+ ally.

Helen’s Career

Helen began her career at the Met Office in 2002 as a graduate scientist working on modelling flow over mountains. The Met Office sponsored her to work on a PhD with the University of Leeds which she completed in 2007. In 2010 she began working part-time and soon after moved to the aviation applications science team as Science Manager developing new science in support of air traffic control, airlines and airports. After a year of maternity leave, she returned to work and was subsequently promoted to Head of applied weather science, leading a team of 45 scientists to develop services for various sectors including defence, aviation and energy. In 2016 she took up a role leading the science and weather forecasting for industry in the Met Office. In her current role she heads up a team of engineers, IT professionals and scientists working to improve weather observations.

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  1. Comment by Elizabeth Hogben posted on

    Helen - Thanks for sharing your experience. Great to hear about your experience at the Met Office and an important reminder about how having supportive colleagues can make a huge difference to being yourself at work. I highly recommend the LGBT+ allies training for anyone wants to know more about how to support diversity and inclusion in your workplace.

  2. Comment by David Vass posted on

    Very proud of my niece in what she has achieved.

  3. Comment by debbie doolan posted on

    Great to work at the Met Office and car share, with you Helen. Having worked in HR for most of my Civil Service career including the last 17 years at the Met Office, really pleased to hear how supportive a workplace and our colleagues have been.