Employers should work harder to engage LGBT+ allies, say experts

29 Apr 2019 By Emily Burt

Stonewall conference urges better communication, with 35 per cent of LGBT staff having hidden their sexuality at work

Organisations must work to encourage, support and empower their LGBT+ members of staff and recognise the business case for inclusive cultures in order to drive genuinely diverse workplaces, experts have told delegates at the 2019 Stonewall Workplace Conference.

Hafsa Qureshi (pictured), recruitment specialist at the Ministry of Justice and Stonewall’s bisexual role model of the year, said engaging people who do not identify as LGBT with the challenges faced by the community was an important part of creating inclusivity at work. 

Speaking to People Management, Qureshi said: “One of the biggest hurdles is reaching people who don’t identify as LGBT to be allies. Too often, people assume that because someone is not from a visible protected characteristic, they don’t have any issues at work.” 

Qureshi added that it was imperative for LGBT allies to promote inclusive cultures at every level of a business.

“Having worked with smaller and larger organisations, the ones that struggle with diversity and inclusion often do so because they fail to communicate it beyond management level,” she warned. 

“The culture stops before reaching the employees who have face-to-face interactions with customers or clients.” 

More than 1,000 people attended the opening session of the conference, with the theme ‘Equal At Work’, where CEO Ruth Hunt delivered her final keynote ahead of departing from her role at the charity later this year. 

“We sometimes forget that it wasn’t that long ago that being LGBT meant you could be fired from work or denied service because of who you are,” she said, adding: “While it’s important to celebrate how far we’ve come, we cannot be complacent.” 

A 2018 survey from the charity found almost one in five LGBT staff (18 per cent) were the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues because of their sexuality. More than a third (35 per cent) had hidden or disguised the fact they were LGBT at work for fear of discrimination. 

The community has also faced a series of rows on an international scale over the last 12 months, including President Trump’s policy to prohibit some transgender people from serving in the US military, and schools in Birmingham dropping classes that include discussion of LGBT relationships following protests from parents. 

In a speech to conference delegates, Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Women and Equalities, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to LGBT-inclusive workplaces, stating: “Organisations cannot afford to exclude talented people, or to limit their potential.” 

She said the Government and Equalities office (GEO) would continue to provide targeted interventions seeking to improve the experiences of LGBT people at work and announced that the GEO would coordinate a series of events to gather employer views, and share expertise and experiences this coming autumn. 

Mordaunt acknowledged the GEO was asking HR departments to commit to a number of significant initiatives – including gender pay reporting and the Race at Work charter – which were “not remotely joined up or coordinated”. 

But she added: “In order to build the businesses of tomorrow, we need workforces that are able to authentically be themselves.” 

Speaking to delegates, Qureshi concluded: “Sometimes, all it takes is one person to step forward in order to make a workplace culture feel more accepting. 

“I encourage you all to use your voices and platforms to raise awareness for your LGBTQ community. Your voice is more important than you know – and you may say something that a person like me has waited their whole life to hear.”

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