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LGBT+ Commission Inquiry Session: Employment, Employability and Skills

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 1: Statement from the former Government LGBT Business Champion

The opening statement of the inquiry session was given by Iain Anderson, former Government LGBT Business Champion.

Widening the conversation

One of the key areas of priority for the former Government LGBT Business Champion was to widen conversations around LGBT+ inclusion at work. He noted that much of the discussions in this space have been bound up with large businesses and were often sector determined.

“So much of this conversation is focused in and around large businesses… and I think we need to widen that to SMEs.” – Iain Anderson

The result of this is that when LGBT+ inclusion at work is discussed, this is in effect preaching to the choir, to businesses with established diversity and inclusion (D&I) teams, with resourced LGBT+ staff networks. Anderson said this is not to say that such businesses do not have any work left to do, but that, for many smaller businesses, this journey has not even begun and there remains much work to do.

Speaking to the importance of bringing small businesses along in these conversations, the Chief of External Affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Craig Beaumont discussed the recently launched FSB LGBT+ business hub and the importance of bringing smaller businesses into this discussion.

This overwhelming focus on larger businesses neglects the substantial number of small businesses in the UK. While there are only 7,000 large businesses in the UK, there are 5.5 million small businesses in the UK and of those, four million do not employ anyone. Naturally, the way we promote LGBT+ inclusion for smaller businesses will look different to how it is done for larger corporates:

“So how do you talk to these people? I think it’s less about data and regulation, because the last thing you want to do to a small business owner is give them a big form, toolkit or some new regulatory guidance. You want to inspire them to do the right thing – and to get small business owners to do that, you need a small business owner who’s done it.” – Craig Beaumont

This has guided the format of the hub, which is centred around member stories, to inspire small business owners to make their workplaces more LGBT+ inclusive:

“What we found was, an LGBT+ small business owner steps away from traditional employed work to do this, to be themselves. They did it because they wanted to be themselves and for their business to reflect them. But what they didn’t necessarily do is thread through their sexuality or gender identity into their business, so we found people who’ve never expressed it to their staff, never even realised that it was part of their business story, when in fact it was a fundamental part.” – Craig Beaumont

Smaller businesses are not the only part of the economy that are traditionally not included in these conversations, and this was a key are of focus for Anderson when he was in post as Government LGBT Business Champion:

“There are some sectors of the economy that are doing better than others…one of the things I tried to do when I was in the role was to get a bigger focus on the sectors that don’t naturally come to mind. So, I started conversations with the automotive sector, with manufacturing, oil and gas.” – Iain Anderson

Another key area for improvement for the national government (The Government Equalities Office and Department for is around the issue of data. To change this, Anderson launched a consultation prior to his departure, looking for examples of best practice from up and down the UK, from businesses large and small to be able to feed into government’s policy thinking. However, with no replacement in post following Anderson’s resignation, the picture of data remains limited:

“The Government, really kind of amazingly doesn’t have an awful lot of data on LGBT+. There’s a lot of data on gender, there’s a lot of data on ethnicity. But when I asked officials for data and evidence gathering around being LGBT+ at work, there were quite a few blank faces. And in a way that’s what I was trying to get underway when I was in the seat.” – Iain Anderson

This consultation closed on 12th May, and no response/outcome is expected from the Government Equalities Office. This lack of data is troubling when we consider what actionable steps to advance LGBT+ equality at work can be taken, as it is much harder to approach a problem when you have a limited understanding of the nature of the issue and of how widespread it is.

Embedding diversity and inclusion

Another topic of conversation was the importance of embedding LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace, so that efforts go beyond a pride flag in June and LGBT+ inclusion becomes a core part of workplace culture, rather than simply an add-on. Approaches to this can included involving staff LGBT+ networks in internal decision-making processes. However, Anderson cited the importance of the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda:

“I think one of the most important things to lock in change on a long-term basis is to put together this conversation, which has traditionally sat in D&I into the ESG conversation, because I think that’s where investors, customers, CEOs and boards are moving.” – Iain Anderson

It was noted that, while many businesses are making concrete steps and thinking a lot more carefully about the ‘E’ and the ‘G’ of ESG, they sometimes remain at a loss as to what to do about the ‘social’ component of ESG.

Given that many businesses are now starting to publish annual ESG reports, this provides not only a route to publicise and communicate the steps taken towards an LGBT+ inclusive workplace, but to hold businesses to account.

Furthermore, while D&I tends to be more internally focused, reflecting on policies, practices and cultures within the company and workplace, by embedding LGBT+ inclusion within the ESG agenda, it places businesses in a stronger position to also be outward looking. In this instance, it would encourage businesses to start thinking about their supply chains and their wider community impact.

Key Recommendations:

  1. Championing D&I in businesses of all sizes – To date, LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace has been dominated by larger businesses and specific sectors. Further outreach needs to be done to reach the vast numbers of LGBT+ people in smaller businesses and working in neglected industries. The FSB LGBT+ hub is a good start, and reaching smaller businesses will involve different methods, recognising that a one-size-fits-all approach will be inappropriate. The ongoing dissemination of best practice that is suitable to smaller businesses through various fora could ensure that smaller businesses are kept abreast of the evolving picture of best practice for LGBT+ inclusion at work.
  2. Data – The Government must improve its data collection and capture on the state of the workplace for LGBT+ people. While some data is available from the Government Equalities Office LGBT Survey of 2018, and the recent consultation mentioned above, this is an ever-evolving conversation, with new internal policies, practices and guidance being developed in businesses across the UK every day. The Government will need to be able to keep abreast of best practice to disseminate to businesses across the UK.
  3. Embedding D&I in corporate ESG policies– With many boards, customers and directors shifting their attention to ESG, firmly locating LGBT+ inclusion policy (as well as other strands of diversity, equality and inclusion policy) in the ‘Social’ component of ESG will be an important step to make sure that change is locked in for the long-term and taken seriously year-round, rather than just Pride month.

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