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Making workplaces truly inclusive for LGBT+ staff

4 Feb 2021 By Stephen Frost

Most HR teams understand the value of an open and accepting culture – but now it’s time to go further, says Stephen Frost

Every HR department knows the value of an open, accepting and transparent culture in making sure teams and businesses operate at their best. And most understand the basics of supporting employees who might identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or other sexual minorities, either in terms of orientation or identity.

But this LGBT+ History Month, it’s time to go beyond the basics. Even in countries where LGBT+ rights are protected by law, many still feel uncomfortable revealing their sexuality. In the US, 53 per cent 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 businesses need to take for true LGBT+ inclusion?

Check the data

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, around 6 per cent identify as LGBT+, and so a truly inclusive organisation should look at their own figures compared to that benchmark.

The percentage of your workforce that openly identifies 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 and will allow you to take real action to improve inclusion.

Make room at the top

A successful meritocracy requires that talented people see a career path open to them. Having diverse role models that have successfully navigated the system without compromising their identity will allow LGBT+ employees to see that the workplace is an inclusive environment. Using your employee network and employee resource groups in this regard can be especially powerful.

LGBT+ people might be less likely to put themselves forward compared with straight applicants for jobs and promotions, as well as being more wary of culture and psychological safety. So, if you don’t preemptively assure them you are LGBT+ friendly, they won’t necessarily assume you are.

Close the gap

One of the reasons LGBT+ progress has been considerable in the last decade is because most straight people know someone who identifies as LGBT+. It is these personal connections that reduce fear and increase understanding. However, we all have a 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 actively look for diversity, inclusion won’t ‘just happen’, so the onus is on HR departments to make sure that policies and processes support greater diversity and inclusivity.

One of the ways you can close the gap is by seeking feedback. Ask your LGBT+ network how you’re doing, either directly or through a third party. Check your employee engagement survey. Engage in online chat.

Recruit and promote inclusively

Recruiting diversity starts with the way you present your organisation internally and externally – are you loud and proud about your commitment to diversity and inclusion the way that Lloyds Bank is, for example? Do you have the right policies and practices in place to make sure your recruitment longlists are diverse and that you have gone to LGBT+ talent pools to look for candidates? Do you monitor the make-up of your shortlist and have you considered whether to mandate LGBT+ inclusion in shortlists? Do you make sure your commitment to diversity and inclusion is a key element of the interview script? And post interview, do you monitor and seek feedback from candidates on their experience so that you can constantly improve?

Having answers to these questions will not only make sure you continue to recruit inclusively. It will demonstrate a commitment internally, build psychological safety for LGBT+ employees and enable your business to become truly inclusive.

The more you can open your doors, the more you can let diversity in, the faster your business can progress.

Stephen Frost is the founder of consultancy f(i) and author of Inclusive Talent Management

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