Comment: Flying the flag for Scotland’s LGBT+ community

This month marks 40 years since the rainbow flag was flown for the first time, in San Francisco. Picture: Contributed
This month marks 40 years since the rainbow flag was flown for the first time, in San Francisco. Picture: Contributed
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Martin Gilbert and Keith Skeoch, the co-chief executives of Standard Life Aberdeen argue the case for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“A true flag cannot be designed – it has to be torn from the soul of the people.” This month marks 40 years since the rainbow flag was flown for the first time, in San Francisco, symbolising Gay Pride. Gilbert Baker, an army draftee turned gay activist, designed the flag after a friend and mentor tasked him with creating a symbol of pride for the LGBT+ community. The six colours of the flag unite to form a rainbow and is the most recognisable emblem of diversity and inclusion today.

We were thrilled that Standard Life Aberdeen could sponsor Pride Edinburgh this year and fly that very same flag over our offices across the city of Edinburgh. As CEOs, we have been asked before, “why does someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity matter at work? It isn’t work-related after all.”

Many of us spend a majority of our waking lives at work. Some people feel they need to hide their true identity for eight hours a day and that must be extremely painful. For trans individuals more immediate difficulties can present themselves in everyday situations like which pronoun to use and where to go to the bathroom. So we have a moral obligation to recognise and celebrate diversity amongst our colleagues.

There is, of course, an equally compelling reason; the widely-publicised financial benefits of a diverse and inclusive culture. Research from McKinsey shows that companies with a diverse workforce report a 70 per cent increase in innovation and are 45 per cent more likely to report increased market share. It makes sense; more diverse teams make better decisions.

It’s also clear that happy people work harder. You cannot expect the best from your workforce if they are operating in a discriminatory environment. For those unable to be out at work, the office can be an uncomfortable place. They can feel withdrawn and demotivated and friction within teams usually follow. An open and accepting culture is the best way to avoid these scenarios.

There’s an abundance of evidence showing that individuals want to work for companies with a good culture that prioritises diversity and inclusion – 47 per cent of millennials consider diversity and inclusion important when evaluating potential employers. Standard Life Aberdeen places a lot of importance on inclusion, recognising that every individual will perform better when they feel included and valued for their diversity of thought and experience. In February we published “Our Vision for an Inclusive Future” to guide Standard Life Aberdeen’s efforts over the next three to five years. As co-CEOs, we both share joint responsibility for this plan.

Sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination have been legally protected in the UK since 2010 but legislation can only go so far in improving culture. Employers have to work hard to create a culture where employees can be themselves and are valued for their diversity. Employee networks are an incredibly useful resource in achieving this. Standard Life Aberdeen’s LGBT+ and ally network, “Lighthouse”, has 500 members worldwide and helps the company facilitate support to LGBT+ employees based across our global locations. This is particularly important where gay and trans rights are not yet recognised by law.

The network has a number of inspiring senior sponsors and role models. It was hugely impressive when last year, one of our longest serving colleagues shared with the company his experiences of coming out at work. His honesty elicited an incredibly positive response from the company and encouraged a number of younger employees to reach out for advice. These sorts of gestures are very important, especially when you consider that 62 per cent of LGBT+ graduates go back into the closet when they enter employment according to Stonewall.

There are signs the financial services industry is upping its game on this issue. A number of companies, like Standard Life Aberdeen, support Pride month in one way or another. We also actively participate in the Diversity Project’s LGBT+ work stream and provide access to counselling services for employees struggling with professional or personal problems.

There is still much work to be done and if our industry is to continue providing value to its clients, it must demonstrate diversity of thought and creativity through its workforce – by attracting innovative talent from a real variety of backgrounds with a broad range of life experiences. Though not credited with saying his design was “torn from the soul of the people”, Gilbert Baker has become synonymous with the quote because of the movement the Rainbow flag helped inspire. It is brilliant to see the rainbow flag flying above some of our offices this month. We hope that many more businesses will follow suit in the years to come.