Undeniably the world has come a long way in LGBT+ inclusion over recent years. With more states offering employment protection and recognition of LGBT+ partnership rights than ever before, there is much to celebrate. While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.
In more than half of the world LGBT+ people may not be protected from discrimination by workplace law. In 72 countries gay relationships are still criminalised, with eight countries still holding the death penalty.
Even in countries where LGBT+ rights are protected by law, many still feel uncomfortable revealing their sexuality. In the United States, 53% of LGBT+ workers are not out at work and many British graduates go back into the closet when entering work, even though they’ve been open at university. So what are the key actions business leaders need to take for true LGBT+ inclusion?
Our homophily nature
We all have a natural tendency to surround ourselves with people similar to ourselves, this is called homophily and it’s the natural and normal tendency to gravitate towards like minds.
If we don’t look for diversity, inclusion won’t ‘just happen’. Thinking about your network is a good place to start your diversity journey. It can then lead to questions of bias, decision-making and ultimately professional development and making us better leaders. Just as in a relationship, people want to feel listened to. Those at the top may feel they have worked their way up based on their ability. However, they may not recognise the advantages they had on their journey and the fact that others from a less privileged upbringing may not have had the same opportunities.
Check the numbers
As an organisation the best way to see how your company ranks in terms of LGBT+ inclusivity is just to look at the numbers. In our population, 6% identifies as LGBT+, and so a truly inclusive organisation should look at their own figures compared to that benchmark.
If your company can say with transparency that ‘3% of our workforce identifies as gay’ it isn’t just a measure of diversity as saying ‘50% of our workforce are women’ would be, it is a measure of inclusion. The percentage of your workforce that identify as gay is the measure of how many LGBT+ people in your office feel comfortable enough to declare their orientation at work. Using data is a powerful way to understand how inclusive your company is, allowing you to take real action to improving inclusion.
Small changes for big impact
97% of our decision-making is unconscious. So it doesn’t matter how much training we do unless we change the system (as well as train behaviours) we won’t achieve LGBT+ inclusion. For example, if you recruit teams rather than individuals, and interview in groups rather than 1-1, you give introverts and people less likely to self promote more of a level playing field by focussing on team skills rather than individual promotion.
Redesign your recruitment systems to be more inclusive and improve meritocracy, efficiency and transparency.
Creating a culture of transparency
Just as recruitment diversity was benchmarked every month by departments at the London Organising Committee of the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 (LOCOG), functions can be benchmarked on their promotions. Apportioning accountability for decision-making is a business efficiency imperative. Transparency is one of the best tools we have to challenge poor decision-making. We know from experience that certain individuals would not have been promoted if the decision maker had to stand by their decision in a public forum.
Objections to such transparent structures usually range from time commitment to other decision makers not knowing the person/business case. The response to the first challenge is the cost benefit of time investment versus the cost of a bad hire, especially at senior levels. The response to the second challenge is that if the candidate is good enough they should stand up to scrutiny by people who have the whole organisation’s interests at heart.
People are inspired by leaders that believe in an inclusive mission. It’s more effective to lead by example and show rather than tell. Implement the above techniques and move your organisation further towards an inclusive meritocracy. The more you can open your doors, the more you can let diversity in, the faster you can ably progress.
Stephen Frost is the founder of f(i), a consultancy that works with business professionals to help them embed inclusion in their decision-making. His latest book, Inclusive Talent Management – How business can thrive in an age of diversity, is out now, published by Kogan Page. For more information go to www.frostincluded.com or find Stephen on Twitter.