Over the last decade, organisations have made huge strides in supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees and creating an inclusive workplace. However, a survey by Stonewall in 2018 reported that 35 per cent of LGBT people in the UK, choose not to disclose their sexuality in their workplace due to fear of discrimination, homophobia, exclusion and missing out on a promotion. An unhappy workforce can cause significant issues for a company and it is important that businesses are prepared to explore ways that can reassure workers from the LGBT community that their voice will be heard. So what can employers do to ensure all LGBT voices are heard in their workplace?
One of the key actions an employer can take is the introduction of a diversity and inclusion policy. The policy should outline what the company intends to do to challenge outdated stereotypes and promote equal opportunities for LGBT and other minority workers. This could be done through the setting of specific targets; for example, the BBC’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, released in 2016, aims to have eight per cent of its workforce be from the LGBT community by 2020 through changes to its recruitment and selection processes. By taking this action, a company can help to encourage its current workers not to feel segregated in their roles whilst also promoting itself to potential external candidates. A visible policy could also enable the organisation to take part in local networking or ‘pride’ events, which would help to facilitate further exposure to the community.
Employers have a legal duty to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees and should, therefore, consider how any current workers are being treated within their organisation. It may be that the company is operating under a working culture that is giving rise to bullying or harassment through office ‘banter’. As employers can be vicariously liable for these situations in the workplace even if they were not aware of them, something that can lead to significant compensation claims, they must ensure they are maintaining a zero tolerance approach to this issue and fully investigate all accusations made. Management should also make clear that any acts of misconduct in this area will not be tolerated.
To further promote awareness, it is advisable to hold regular and compulsory equality and diversity training for all employees and management, either as part of an induction process or at regularly organised intervals. All managers should also be fully trained in responding to the needs and requirements of every member of staff. If there are situations were a manager appears to be acting in a discriminatory manner towards a member of the community, it should be considered if they need further training against any conscious or unconscious bias which could be creeping in.
Employers could also consider implementing open forums that can process any concerns or suggestions from employees. Through this, managers will be able to note the views of its staff members, identify areas that need including and help to reassure them that their comments are being addressed at a senior level. For example, workers may feel that introducing gender neutral toilets to the company would send a message to the workforce overall that gender is a non-issue. It may also be advisable to allow for a spokesperson from the LGBT community in the company that can approach management on the behalf of their colleagues and discuss any further issues they have raised. If employees feel that they will be listened to, they are more likely to remain positive in their role and further help to develop and progress the company.
Encouraging the development of inclusivity and diversity within a company should be treated as an ongoing process and employers should always take steps to check, maintain and nurture it. It should be remembered that a workplace which fosters inclusion and tolerance can see employee job performance, job satisfaction and creativity all benefit.
Interested in diversity in the workplace? We recommend the Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2019.