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Our Conversation with Stevie Spring CBE

Watch back - our conversation with highly experienced business and charity leader, Stevie Spring CBE.

By MattHaworth · April 16, 2024

Watch our interview with Stevie Spring here:

Insights for LGBTQ+ leaders: our conversation with Stevie Spring CBE

Stevie Spring CBE, a distinguished business and charity leader, shared her experiences and lessons on navigating the professional world as an LGBTQ+ leader. Her journey provides valuable lessons for LGBTQ+ individuals, leaders, and those aspiring to leadership roles – highlighting the significance of authenticity, strategic disclosure, and resilience.

Overcoming barriers to growth

Stevie Spring spoke candidly about the dual barriers of gender and social mobility that impacted her career trajectory. Coming from a “poor, working-class, single-parent background,” Spring emphasised how these aspects of her identity intersected with her professional life, often compounding the challenges she faced. For LGBTQ+ individuals, this underscores the multifaceted nature of identity and the layered challenges that can arise in the workplace.

The impact of being outed

Spring described her personal experience of being outed by the media, specifically how the “Independent on Sunday” included her in their ‘Pink List.’ While she had not concealed her same-sex partner, this publication marked a significant shift towards public acknowledgment. She expressed that this led to a loss of privacy and brought about new challenges, particularly in maintaining her professional persona under increased public scrutiny.

Navigating international challenges

Spring highlighted the complexities of working internationally as an LGBTQ+ leader. She recalled specific instances, such as traveling to China and Egypt, where she had to carefully manage the disclosure of her sexual orientation due to the local cultural and social norms. These experiences illustrate the delicate balance LGBTQ+ leaders sometimes have to strike when operating in diverse international contexts, often requiring us to adapt our openness about our identity based on the environment.

Confronting homophobia in progressive environments

Despite the UK’s progressive reputation, Spring faced overt homophobia in professional settings. She shared that when she first ‘came out’, some colleagues commented that they ‘knew she was gay because she wouldn’t sleep with them’. She also told  of a job interview process (she was an interviewer) where another interviewer made discriminatory remarks about a lesbian candidate, questioning Spring if she knew the candidate simply because they were both gay. This incident serves as a stark reminder that even in seemingly progressive environments, LGBTQ+ individuals can face prejudice and must be equipped to address and challenge such biases.

Advocating for diversity and inclusion

Through her leadership at the British Council and other organisations, Spring has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and inclusivity. She stressed the importance of using leadership roles to effect change and support vulnerable groups, enhancing visibility and advocating for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in professional spaces.

The importance of authenticity

Stevie emphasised the power of controlling one’s narrative in managing personal and professional identities. She advised LGBTQ+ individuals to be thoughtful about when and how they disclose personal information, particularly in professional settings. This strategic approach helps maintain dignity and professional relationships, especially in environments that may not be fully accepting.


Stevie Spring’s narrative offers a powerful lens through which LGBTQ+ leaders and aspiring leaders can view their own paths. Her experiences highlight the ongoing challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in the professional realm but also illustrate the profound impact that resilient, authentic leadership can have. Her story is a call to action for current and future leaders to navigate their journeys with courage, strategy, and a commitment to fostering inclusivity.

About Stevie

Former Chair of the British Council, Stevie graduated in law and after roles in marketing, television and international advertising, became Chief Executive of two international media companies where she led on digital transformation. She has also Chaired two technology companies and has direct experience of both joint ventures and partnerships.

Stevie is now a portfolio director and investor with a particular interest in ‘profit with purpose’. She serves on the Co-op Group Board and has extensive charity sector experience including Arts and Business and chairing the Groundwork Federation, BBC Children in Need and now Mind, the mental health charity. Named as one of Britain’s 500 most influential people and one of the UK’s 100 most connected women, she was awarded the CBE in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

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