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How can businesses promote LGBT+ inclusion? LGBT+ Commission Inquiry Session

Chaired by Steve Wardlaw, a prominent LGBT+ rights campaigner and international business lawyer, the fourth inquiry session of the LGBT+ Commission took place on 6th June. This session focussed on the issues that the LGBT+ community in the UK face with respect to employment, employability and skills, bringing together the recommendations of leaders in this field.

Please note that this report is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all areas covered in the meeting, nor all areas that the Commission will focus on regarding LGBT+ employment, employability and skills. Instead, this paper seeks to highlight key areas of consensus discussed by the panel, some of the problems in these areas and the recommendations that were suggested. The full recording of the session can be found here.

Session 2: What can businesses do?

The second section of this inquiry session of the LGBT+ Commission focused on the role of businesses in fostering inclusive environments for the LGBT+ community. The panel for this session included:

  • Mo Wiltshire (Director of Education and Youth/Director of Governance, Stonewall)
  • Leng Montgomery (Senior DE&I Consultant, Charlotte Sweeney)
  • Harry Queenborough (Founding Lead, Global Bi+ inclusion, EY)
  • Tom Steel (UK Co-chair, LGBT+ Employee Resource Group, IQVIA

LGBT+ Inclusion at work

While LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace has come a long way, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, as well as the experiential fear in the workplace often prevent LGBT+ people from reaching their full potential in professional contexts.

In Stonewall’s 2022 Staff Feedback Questionnaire, the findings showed that:

  • 22 per cent of LGBT+ respondents said they did not feel able to be themselves in the workplace, rising to 27 per cent of bi respondents, 33 per cent of trans respondents and 41 per cent of non-binary respondents.
  • 31 per cent of LGBT+ people did not agree that their workplace culture was inclusive of them as an LGBT+ person, this rose to 40 per cent of disabled LGBT+ people and 51 per cent of older LGBT+ people.

Fundamentally, an individual’s energy is finite. The more energy they must expend at work worrying about discrimination based on their identity, or on pretending that they are someone that they are not, the less productive they will be.

“You cannot be at peak performance if you’re spending most of your day concerned and worried about whether or not someone’s going to act in a certain way.” – Tom Steel

As was noted by Leng Montgomery, this often has adverse impacts on career prospects:

“There’s a big discrepancy in terms of board representation and management representation… we have to be doing more to set LGBT+ people up for success and to actually promote them further in the company.” – Leng Montgomery

As the panel noted, more inclusive LGBT+ cultures do not simply emerge. They are the result of decided action and in many cases, of gaining buy-in from senior decision makers. This could be because it the right thing to do or on the grounds that having an LGBT+ inclusive workplace is better for business. It is likely to attract better talent and improve staff retention, as well as (when communicated effectively) shine through to customers and clients. While this is understood at senior levels, the way to go about this is less so:

“Lots of people know holistically at a senior level, that being inclusive and engaging with D&I is good for business. They don’t know how to do it though and there is often a lot of fear.” – Leng Montgomery

Some useful organisational approaches were discussed. It was noted by Leng Montgomery that, where D&I is taken as a key pillar of business strategy, rather than a siloed add-on, it is generally more effective. He also noted the importance of accountability towards D&I targets to create firm incentives for senior staff towards these goals:

“Businesses that I’ve seen be really successful getting that buy-in generated have had responsibilities towards certain key priorities.” – Leng Montgomery

Speaking to the challenges of generating organisational change, Mo Wiltshire noted the importance of data in any LGBT+ inclusion plan:

“We talk about it being as easy as one, three, two. Firstly, you’ve got to really understand where you are… what you understand about your employee base and their satisfaction. Three is agreeing that organisational vision, the end point of what success really looks like. What it will take is that second step to achieve that vision. So, how do we close the pay gap? How do we reduce the gap in employee engagement or satisfaction?” – Mo Wiltshire

Generating data-driven insights is critical to achieving meaningful inclusion. Without an in-depth understanding of what your employee base looks like, inclusive policies targeted at the appropriate areas will be much harder to develop.

A key means by which a sense of LGBT+ inclusivity can begin to be built are through staff LGBT+ networks, bringing together a businesses LGBT+ community to provide a sense of belonging and visibility to LGBT+ staff members. As was noted by Harry Queenborough, who is the founder of the bi+ community group at EY, when these groups are given a seat at the table to help make substantive changes, this can lead to the co-creation of meaningfully inclusive workplaces.

In his opening statement, it was noted by Anderson that staff networks are facing a challenging time in the aftermath of the pandemic:

“The comment was made to me on several occasions, ‘we’re trying to keep our LGBT+ network going… but we’re finding it much harder to maintain.’” – Iain Anderson

Indeed, even with the loosening of restrictions, the shift away from office work has meant that some things have been lost, including the intensity of activity, which will need to be built back.

Outside of the workplace

While it is important to create an inclusive work environment with effective internal policies, perception is also critically important. If an organisation cannot effectively communicate its inclusive workplace, it is unlikely that we will see the speed of change that we would like and it is also less likely that this inclusive culture will attract talent since it is not visible to them.

It is for this reason that Harry Queenborough mentioned the importance of demonstrating inclusivity at all touch points between employers and graduates. This means that at campus events, employers fairs, online sessions and much more, ensuring that the diversity of your workforce is properly represented. This might also involve disclosing pronouns, participating in student pride, posting job vacancies on LGBT+ specific job boards, as well as direct outreach to university societies.

It is also important to note however, that much of the conversation around LGBT+ employment is overly focused on the members of the LGBT+ community that are in work, and neglects those members of the community (particularly younger members of the LGBT+ community) who are not in work, education or training.

Wiltshire noted that, it was because of this issue that Stonewall created a resource called ‘Young Futures’, working with a group of LGBT+ young people not in education, training, or work and sector leaders to break down the different routes into employment and what is meant by ‘employability’ across different professions:

“Young Futures is about understanding how to articulate their skills and what it takes to have the confidence to feel able to be out at work…and to support all of our workforce to feel that there is no need to make a choice between being our true selves and actually fulfilling our potential in the workplace.” – Mo Wiltshire

A further area which sees little consideration in these discussions was noted by Gurchaten Sandhu. While the Employment Rights Act 1996 mentions employees, workers and service providers, these discussions are almost exclusively bound up with employees, when in fact the worst violations of worker rights tend to happen in less formal working settings where there are fewer social protection provisions and the LGBT+ community is disproportionately found in the informal economy:

“As a lot of youth are pushed into the gig economy, there will be a requirement for these spaces to be a lot more inclusive of different identities and needs.” – Gurchaten Sandhu

A key point was raised that providing a space for gig workers to organise (whether via unionisation or more informal networks of support) would be a crucial step to achieving this.

Key recommendations from the panel:

  1. Improve internal data collection – Businesses that want to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace must, as a pre-requisite to change have a firm, data-grounded understanding of their employee base and satisfaction. Once this is in place, appropriately co-created policy can be developed to ensure that employers are creating the workplace culture that they want.
  2. Create accountability to D&I targets – D&I policy often lacks specific targets and people responsible for meeting those targets. Unsurprisingly, this rarely brings the desired results. Creating an accountability framework which encourages engagement at every level will create clearly defined responsibilities at senior levels and greater incentives to hit these targets and bring about meaningful change.
  3. Engage with young LGBT+ people – While these conversations tend to focus on creating an inclusive workplace culture, just as important for the LGBT+ community is what happens before and outside of work, education, or training. Many LGBT+ people remain hesitant about the world of work and whether they will be able to be their full authentic selves. Effective outreach to young LGBT+ people regarding their careers and their futures is critically important to changing this. Stonewall’s Young Futures Programme and Just Like Us’ LGBT+ volunteer ambassador programme are great examples of this. Businesses should engage in these kinds of efforts to reach young people who are beginning to consider their career prospects

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