Enshrining LGBT+ rights is a duty of big business - Jess McNicholas

Larger businesses have a duty to evoke change and promote inclusion of the LGBT+ community, writes Jess McNicholas of financial services firm State Street.

Initiatives such as Pride and Friends networks lead by examplein supporting LGBT+ employees. Picture: John Devlin
Initiatives such as Pride and Friends networks lead by examplein supporting LGBT+ employees. Picture: John Devlin

Environmental, social and corporate governance and diversity have figured highly on executive agendas in recent years, as more and more businesses promote equality and inclusion both internally and externally. With businesses increasingly becoming catalysts for global change, progress in this space has undoubtedly been made. Yet we must be wary of growing complacent.

Despite increased awareness and the Equality Act 2010 making sexual-orientation-based discrimination against employees or job seekers illegal, Stonewall’s latest work report reveals just how prevalent discrimination in the workplace still is, and how far we have to go before we can say equality for our LGBT+ workers has been achieved.

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It’s all about the numbers

Recent research reveals just how prevalent discrimination in the workplace still is, says McNicholas. Picture: Contributed

According to research published by charity Stonewall, nearly one in five LGBT+ people (18 per cent) faced prejudice while looking for work in 2017, with the same proportion facing negative behaviour from colleagues in the workplace. These figures are all the more alarming for black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT+ employees, 10 per cent of which were physically attacked in the same year, compared with three per cent of their white LGBT+ peers.

While overt and structural discrimination has decreased, it has only made the subtler, needling microaggressions that many LGBT+ workers still experience at work more conspicuous. From inappropriate questions and careless heteronormative remarks to outright dismissals of a person’s sexuality, unconscious expressions of prejudice remain rife in the common workplace. It’s sadly unsurprising, therefore, that more than a third of LGBT+ staff (35 per cent) feel compelled to hide or disguise their LGBT+ identity at work for fear of discrimination, with this figure rising to a staggering 51 per cent of transgender staff.

The status quo is unacceptable on a purely human level, but it is also bad for business. Both prospective and current employees and clients are increasingly looking for a visible commitment to equality from the organisations they associate themselves with, and non-inclusive companies are in danger of alienating an enormous pool of talent and business. Studies have also shown that companies implementing LGBT+-centric policies consistently outperform their competitors, with their stock improving an average of 6.5 per cent in comparison.

Leading by example

To be truly inclusive and reflect their own clients’ diversity and values, passive acceptance is insufficient. Companies must be proactive in putting the right structures and initiatives in place, be that by incorporating diversity and inclusion into annual performance reviews, or by implementing inclusive staff policies, benefits and networks. At State Street, we have LGBT+ inclusive management training, a transitioning at work policy, a global “Pride and Friends” employee network and a global ally programme.

The importance of all employees – be they LGBT+ or allies – coming together to foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable bringing their entire, authentic selves to work is essential, and our global ally programme was created with this in mind. By using this platform to spark conversations around sexual orientation, gender identity and intersectionality, allies can play vital roles in raising awareness, educating staff, and providing crucial support to their LGBT+ peers; particularly those allies in senior roles, who can implement change by leading by example.

Our networks often work together to broaden their reach, with our UK Pride and Friends network – which this year celebrated its tenth anniversary – recently teaming up with the company’s new mental health employee network Shine for a discussion on the mental health of LGBT+ staff through all stages of their career. Hosting events where people can share their own experiences and learn from each other is vital in showing staff that they are celebrated and cared for within the organisation.

Initiatives and events such as these encourage positive changes that extend far beyond the events themselves. Once LGBT+ practices have been established and promoted, they can inspire the establishment of others elsewhere, supporting the LGBT+ community at large.

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In a world where the majority of LGBT+ people are not protected from discrimination by workplace law, multinational businesses who have the footprint, resources and power needed to evoke global change must come together and do what they can to set the workplace agenda and beyond.

- Jess McNicholas, head of global inclusion diversity and corporate citizenship, for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at State Street.