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29 November 2017 | By Carolyn Fairbairn Insight

LGBT progress: be proud, but not satisfied

How roles models, measurement and education can lead to greater inclusivity

Over the last 20 years of my career, I’ve been heartened by how workplace inclusion has progressed. But there is still so much more we must do.

It’s amazing to think that when Stonewall first began its workplace equality index, many of the firms who made the cut wanted to remain anonymous. And this wasn’t 1950 or 1975, it was 2005. Now, 12 years on, employers are proud to lead that list and more and more trying to get on it. 

Earlier this week at the CBI’s LGBT network meeting, it was my pleasure stand alongside the Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, to mark this progress and call for even more action for LGBT inclusion in the workplace. 

Under the Speaker’s leadership, we’ve seen the rainbow flag flying above the mother of parliaments and the House of Commons has raced from nowhere into Stonewall’s top 30.

And in last 10 years, we’ve seen the welcome introduction of the Equality Act, marriage equality and the Adoption and Children Act. Parliamentary legislation has helped to ‘lock in’ inclusion, as has Stonewall, who’ve provided fantastic leadership.

Examples to follow

The now famous Stonewall list is full of case studies that other employers can use to become more inclusive and more diverse. So here are a few examples of the methods I’ve seen which have worked.

The first centres on senior role models and allies. People in positions of power can champion greater inclusion throughout an organisation. Importantly, they don’t necessarily have to be part of the group, but back the group.

This year’s Stonewall’s Employer of the Year is Lloyd’s Banking Group’s group director of operations, Karin Cook. Her passion and reach has permeated the entire firm. It’s also empowered the wider work of Lloyds’ Rainbow Network, made up of allies as well as LGBT staff themselves.

We at the CBI are strong LGBT allies and back Stonewall’s mission to promote acceptance without exception.

Number two – measurement. Things that get measured get done, and that’s as true for diversity as it is for anything else.  At Eversheds Sutherland they measure employees’ LGBT declaration rates, how attractive they are as an employer to the LGBT community, and the findings from their employee surveys. This is the right type of practical activity that can improve the experience of different groups of employees across a whole organisation.

And number three – education. Making sure that managers and, in fact, all staff know about inclusion best practice.  Asda has set up diversity training, introduced ‘managers’ toolkits’ and runs groups in which senior managers simply listen to the experience of LGBT staff from across the business. Since these new initiatives, the number of staff allies has gone up and cases of discrimination have gone down.

So, you can see it doesn’t need spelling out: the business case is clear.

Greater inclusivity means easier recruitment, better retention, staff and customer loyalty, resulting in better decision making. We also know that staff who feel able to be themselves are also much more productive than those who don’t.

And with UK economic growth subdued, we simply can’t afford to overlook such an important boost to productivity. But here’s the problem. Although we all know it can work, we shouldn’t fool ourselves that this message is universally understood. We may all be committed to inclusion, but there are still far too many who are not yet out there. 

Broadening the message

I want to challenge business: let’s all use our networks to make sure we aren’t preaching solely to those who already get it. Asda is one of only two retailers on the Stonewall list, and there are no manufacturing or construction firms at all. We can change that, by promoting best practices, empowering allies and role models, measuring progress and educating staff.

On behalf of the CBI, I promise we will do all we can. I know how important this is for the LGBT community. But it is important for us all. And we’re helping business to do even more. We’ve just hosted a big diversity and inclusion event in Birmingham, and next year we’re starting on an entirely new programme of work on mental health – combatting the stigma that still costs lives and careers.

And we’ll also carry on learning from CBI members who have already made their workplaces fairer and more inclusive, learning from what works. I will continue to ask businesses to do the same, as we have come so far and can go further still.

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