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Why acceptance isn't far enough for LGBT+ inclusivity

11 Jun 2018 By Stephen Frost

This Pride Month, Stephen Frost explains what all organisations should be doing to achieve a truly inclusive culture

Every June the LGBT+ community comes together to celebrate Pride Month. June was chosen to remember the 1969 Stonewall Riots that broke out after police raided one of New York's most popular gay clubs. It is a time for businesses to reflect on the diversity of their workforces and on how inclusive their workplaces really are.

Around the world 72 states offer some form of employment protection for LGBT+ people. And 47 of those offer some further recognition in terms of partnership rights. However, in more than half the world, LGBT+ people may not be protected from discrimination by workplace law. In the US, 53 per cent of LGBT+ workers are not out at work and in Britain many graduates go back into the closet when entering work, even though they’ve been open at university.

What more should employers be doing?

Six per cent of the population identifies as LGBT+, so being able to say ‘3 per cent of our workforce openly identifies as gay’ is a really powerful thing. It is not only a measure of diverse workforce, but a measure of inclusion that those people feel comfortable enough in their work environment to declare their orientation. By measuring the data, companies can measure the effectiveness of their LGBT+ inclusion. 

While numbers are a great measure, real people can often speak louder. Having real employees who are happy and openly LGBT+ is compelling, particularly if they are willing to be champion role models for when other LGBT+ candidates are looking to get a job at an organisation. Seeing the figures openly and employees as role models shows that LGBT+ people are welcomed in a company and creates a safe space for everyone to ‘uncover’. This transparency is key; without pre-emptively reassuring employees you are LGBT+ friendly, they won’t assume you are.

Going beyond acceptance to find inclusion

People are often absolutely convinced they are colour blind, that they ‘don’t discriminate’, that they accept everyone by treating everyone the same. Lateef Martin, a video game designer from Montreal, has said: “Saying you don’t see colour is a lazy way to see the world. It exempts you from putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

It is a fact that we all have biases, and the world is not a level playing field. This climate of seeming acceptance and tolerance is seductive and dangerous. Thinking and feeling is not enough. It is doing that creates inclusion. There are no medals simply for having gay best friends. The cold, hard fact is that a better world does not just happen – people make it happen, and the inaction of good people can actually prevent it happening.

There is generally an ignorance of why there is a need for inclusion initiatives. Often when there is an LGBT+ initiative at work, an outcry can be heard from straight people asking ‘where’s my straight initiative?’ Diversity in the workplace is a reality; there are the obvious differences like gender, race and ethnicity, but then there are the less obvious like sexual orientation, hidden disabilities, cognitive ability and political views. All these differences mean that no two people are the same, and that diversity is valuable. Companies need to use communication to help ensure straight people realise that diversity is inclusive of them too.

Stephen Frost is a leading expert in diversity and inclusion, and the founder of consultancy Frost Included. He tweets from @frostincluded

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