Men and women dressed in business attire having a meeting in a boardroom

Being LGBT friendly

by Neil Bentley; CEO of OUTstanding, previously Deputy Chair of Stonewall and Deputy CEO of the CBI.

Everything is great for LGBT people now, isn’t it?  We have equal marriage, anti-discrimination legislation, openly gay politicians and business people.  But 62% of LGBT graduates, who were out at university go back in the closet when they start their first job…. Why?

It’s not always easy being LGBT at work. There are a dearth of workplace role models, those setting off on their careers can be wary of showing vulnerabilities or perceived difference. They lack the networks that seasoned professionals have and are still working to comprehend how the business environment functions. And it is exhausting to be closeted at work, to police your use of gendered pronouns, dodge assumptions and concentrate on muting your authentic self.

Lord Browne, who is on OUTstanding’s advisory board, says to professionals who do not understand this, who say that everything is okay now, or that it’s not a workplace issue – go back to your offices, remove any family photographs, don’t talk about anything personal to your colleagues: Don’t tell them who you went on your holidays with; who you share dinner with, who you share a home with; who you’ve just fallen in love with – or split up from.

Tell me how effective you would be under those circumstances?

85% of those responding to a survey of OUTstanding’s network said non-inclusive workplaces have a negative impact on employees and damages productivity.  55% of employees do not feel comfortable coming out at work. Employees who are not out at work are 70% more likely to leave an organisation within three years than LGBT people who are able to bring their whole selves to work.

And there’s a hugely beneficial side to making sure that the workplace is welcoming to LGBT people. Studies show that employees are up to 32% more productive when they feel comfortable being out in the workplace and that organisations with LGBT friendly policies and working make the workforce a friendlier place for their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender colleagues.

This is both a productivity and skills challenge – retaining and recruiting the best talent is essential in any sector. And understanding the baseline of where you are on the LGBT challenge is a key first step before taking action. It is not intrusive to ask about sexual orientation in monitoring surveys – it is vital if you are to understand what to do. Asking also sends a signal that as an employer or profession that you care about this issue and want to take action to improve the professional environment. The absence of questions sends a signal that you are not interested in the brightest and best, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.  It is an organisation’s choice of what to do about this.

At OUTstanding we believe leadership is vital. Those in leadership positions should use their influence to communicate that by being authentic and yourself at work professionals will be more confident, perform better and ultimately boost overall results.