Over the last decade, businesses in all sectors have made huge strides in supporting LGBT+ employees and creating inclusive workplaces. The evidence is clear, businesses that support and foster LGBT-inclusive practices often outperform their competitors and are more likely to attract and retain good people.

Yet many LGBT+ people still feel unable to disclose their sexuality to their employees and colleagues for fear of negative repercussions. According to YouGov research in 2020, more than a third of all LGBT+ staff have hidden their sexual orientation at work for fear of discrimination, with that figure rising to 42% for ethnic minorities.

To mark LGBT+ History month, we assembled an expert panel of senior leaders to discuss how we can better support people who identify as LGBT+ in the workplace with a focus on practices that drive business performance.

The discussion was introduced by our CEO Rob Walker and moderated by Catherine Osaigbovo, Director in our HR team, and our strategic D&I lead. They hosted Liz Bingham OBE, previously a board member at Ernst and Young, Miranda Brawn CEO and Founder of Miranda Brawn Leadership and Diversity Foundation and Craig Jones MBE, Joint Chief Executive of Fighting with Pride, an LGBT+ military charity.

Nearly 400 senior leaders across multiple business functions signed up for the event, suggesting this is no longer just an HR conversation. Here are some of the key points from the discussion.

Why is there still an issue in businesses?

Liz pointed out that part of the challenge is we have become victims of our own success. We have made fantastic strides forward on the diversity agenda, almost to the point of people thinking we’re done. But while many big businesses are now more diverse – the big question is how inclusive is the culture?

YouGov polling revealed that one in five people have admitted to making offensive remarks about LGBT people in the workplace within the last year. Another survey discovered that 63 per cent of people who had heard an offensive mark aimed at an LGBT person didn't speak out or provide any support.

The role of allyship

Miranda asserted that allyship has a key part to play in creating more inclusive cultures. People need to be “brave and fearless and speak up when you see something happening that is wrong". We need to tackle the inappropriate language and “office banter” and to stamp out harmful behaviours when we see them.

Miranda also raised challenges around intersectionality. We all have numerous identities; people often do not self-identify as one thing. Employees need to be able to bring all that they are to the table. For example, those from a Black or Asian background may not feel comfortable disclosing their sexuality for cultural reasons. It is these nuances that we need to be aware of in our language and interactions.

What actions can senior leaders take?

Liz and Craig both agreed that senior leaders play a crucial part in unlocking a more diverse and inclusive culture. They should be acutely aware of how visible they are. People will be taking verbal and visual cues and shaping their own behaviours based on how they see their leaders interacting.    

There will, of course, be everyday interactions that leaders will need to be conscious of, in addition to grander role modelling statements. For example, Liz suggests that leaders should overtly support D&I events, campaigns and practices, and this support should be a continuing narrative throughout the business. When employees important clients being invited to these types of events with senior leaders also in attendance, it reinforces the importance of the initiative.

Miranda noted the value of policies and procedures, but also stressed the importance of training for both leaders and the wider business to implement them. Furthermore, when an incident occurs it is essential that leaders act on it quickly and do not just brush it under the carpet. 

How can you measure success?

Liz gave an example where two data sets were taken across individual EY businesses – their Global People Survey, which measures inclusion and belonging, and an external brand survey. It will not come as a surprise that there was a direct correlation between the level of engagement of EY employees and the quality of the EY brand in the market. The highest performing EY businesses were delivering $100,000 of additional revenue, per person, per year, compared to the lowest performing EY offices. They had an 11% delta on the retention of their very best staff and a staggering 7% delta on gross margin between the best and worst performing businesses. Ultimately, the quality of client relationships and referrals were better.

Craig emphasised there are practical limitations to collecting data to measure success, not everything will be evidenced perfectly, but we should have a good instinct for what is and is not working. There will be different indicators to suggest we are heading in the right direction, for example, whether LGBT network groups are growing, and LGBT employees are being attracted and retained in the business.

For further insights on the points above, unconscious bias training, the challenges around language, and effective D&I training, you can view the meeting in full here.

Written by

Catherine Osaigbovo

Catherine has 25 years’ recruitment experience of which the past 14 have been spent specialising in HR. Her remit covers the entire permanent HR lifecycle, with her passion lying in building HR leadership teams and their direct reports with an inclusive focus. A Diversity & Inclusion focus and strategy is at the heart of creating a culturally intelligent leadership team to enable businesses to become even more successful.

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