Ellie Lowther FRSA is an inclusion specialist and the founder of Essential Learning Curve Ltd. Nationally recognised as one of the foremost speakers around trans and non-binary inclusion, Ellie delivers inclusion training and workshops to thousands of people across the UK.
Ellie’s roots are in the voluntary sector. Previously the founder of Trans Aware CIO, she still finds time to volunteer her time to support her community via various projects.
Tell us about yourself and your business journey.
I run Essential Learning Curve, where I deliver training and workshops across the UK. I’m a one-stop diversity shop. I have a long history in this area, and I’ve always been community-based. I led the team that created the first trans specific safe house project in the UK. I was recognised nationally as the sole binary trans finalist at the 2019 National Diversity Awards in the Positive Role Model category. Last year, I was blessed to be nominated and invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts for progressing the understanding of inclusion around the UK.
People see me now as the inclusion trainer who rocks up with a guitar. I’m confident in the area that I work in. When I first started delivering training sessions in this area, I would have pieces of paper and my hands would be shaking. At one Let’s Talk Trans event, someone who was well-known and respected in the industry made a point of belittling me for having notes. It made me realise that as I travel through my own journey, mentoring and encouraging other people to work in this area is very important to me.
Over the years, I’ve worked with the National Citizen’s Service (NCS) and delivered sessions to over 5,000 young people. They’re always the sessions that leave me with the best memories. When you work in an area that you love, you never work a day in your life, and I feel lucky to work in the area that I do. I’ve recently joined TikTok because I think we need more bitesize inclusion out there.
People look at me and they see a trans woman, but I’m more than that. I’m mixed race. I’m a person of faith. We need to listen to each other more, have conversations and take hate out of the debate, especially in the world of business. The money that goes through your till doesn’t have a gender.
I feel it’s more dangerous for trans people to come out now than when I came out in 2012. I was lucky to do my transitional journey and have my surgery last year. What we need to do as older people is to amplify, echo and enable the voices of the young people. We can’t be what we can’t see. We live in a world where trans people haven’t been recognised. I didn’t have positive role models when I was growing up.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I set up Trans Aware in 2017, the first trans-specific charity in the North East. We supported over 500 people going through transitions and spoke with thousands of family members. However, it was never funded and as we moved forward, I realised I needed to be able to work in an area that I was passionate about.
I felt I had something to give to the world of inclusion, so I decided it was time to set up my own company and am pleased to report my workshops and awareness sessions naturally remove the ‘walking on eggshells’ feeling that some experience when facilitating trans and non-binary people. I like to think it’s the quality of the product that keeps people engaged. I had no idea how it was going to go, but I’m so pleased with the progress that I’ve made. I only want to work for companies that really want to make a difference. FSB’s virtual networking events also gave me opportunities to link with other businesses and make new friends.
Between 85 - 90% of my follow-up calls are with women in business, which made me realise that there’s still a lot of stigma out there with male business owners and leaders engaging openly and positively with trans women. I can only speak from my own experience as a trans woman, but I imagine others may have similar issues. I grew up during a time when being gay stopped being illegal in 1967, and before then if you came out as gay, you’d lose your job. There are a lot of older people in business who have lived through that. For some people, speaking with a trans woman could be a totally foreign concept. We see different challenges, but we deal with them in different ways, and we can learn from each other.
The truth stands up to all shades of light and when we recognise everyone, we can start moving forward in an inclusive way. When the pandemic hit, I stepped away from my business and worked for a care company. As I was doing the training, the trainer made a clumsy remark about ‘man boobs’. Everyone in the room started giggling because there was a trans woman in the room. I’ve got thick skin and it doesn’t affect me in the way it used to, but in the room was the mother of a trans child. When I spoke to her afterward, she was horrified to think of the world that their child is moving into.
What advice do you have for LGBT+ people who want to start their own business?
Have confidence in your product and know your subject. You’ve got nothing to apologise for in taking up space if you’ve got something you want to put out there. If you’re not confident, how can you expect people to use your service?
Always be willing to adapt. I started out delivering training sessions and now I facilitate inclusion hubs, run peer groups, and do advocacy. Where you start may not be where you finish. In business, you need to be adaptable but also have ownership of where your business is going.
Find a supportive community. Advice and mentoring are brilliant, but it has to sit with you because you can only authentically do what is authentic from you.
Any one of us can be bullied or discriminated for who we are, dependent on the audience. Until we’re all truly free to be ourselves, we’re never going to create an inclusive world that benefits us all.
What plans do you have for your business in the future?
In five years, I actually want to have a fast-food vegan van! In the years I have left working in this area, I would love to mentor young people who are coming through as trans or non-binary and want to work in this area. I want to share what I’ve learnt in my journey.
Read Ellie's article about unconscious bias and trans entrepreneurship.