LGBT+ inclusion is a business culture issue – don’t let it get side-lined as you grow

Recently, the Economist held its annual Pride and Prejudice event, which included a panel exploring whether or not we still need a business case for LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace.

The panel consisted of: Alison Brittain, chief executive, Whitbread; Vittorio Colao, chief executive, Vodafone; Sue Whalley, chief operations officer, Royal Mail; and Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general, CBI.

The panel took it as read that a business case for inclusion exists, but that even if it didn’t, it shouldn’t matter – businesses should be relied upon to do the right thing.

“There is actually something just a bit more visceral and fundamental I think, about how we want to be as a society and how we want to be as human beings, and what environment we’d like our children to be brought up in,” said Brittain.

Fairbairn agreed, arguing that speaking about LGBT+ inclusion in terms of a business case is too much “dry language” when what we are talking about is a “very, very human question”.

The panel also explored the idea that, increasingly, businesses are being born inclusive. New businesses from new generations are not even questioning whether to be open to an LGBT+ workforce, and that transparent company culture is being baked in from day one.

But we can’t rest on our laurels.

Don’t let LGBT+ inclusivity get side lined

A shift away from thinking in terms of a “business case” to unquestioningly accepting LGBT+ inclusivity sounds like a step in the right direction – but business leaders must continually make the effort to keep improving.

In terms of a priority list, say, where should LGBT+ inclusivity come in relation Brexit, or global trade and so on?

“I think we need to keep on making the case for why it needs to be at the top of the list…we need practical things that work…because I think it’s also true that if you’re a small company it can get crowded out, and that’s when things can go bad,” explained Fairbairn.

This is an interesting point – you may be born inclusive, but as your business grows it can be easy to lose sight of the business as a whole.

Culture becomes more unwieldy to manage as more people get on-boarded, so how can you implement practical steps to ensure you don’t lose sight of LGBT+ inclusivity?

Have a plan of action

When Brittain joined Whitbread, she decided to start measuring LGBT+ inclusivity – partly because if you don’t measure things in an organisation, nothing gets done, but also because “measuring systems are indicative in and of themselves of something you give some importance to”.

What measurement looks like may well differ from one business to the next – it might mean asking employees to fill out feedback forms, or launching networks for different groups and monitoring engagement etc.

Offering training and learning for employees is another way businesses can work to bring about positive change.

“We use learning more generally to drive diversity inclusion…that includes team training at hotel level and coffee shop level for Premier Inn and Costa to ensure that our teams behave in an inclusive way with customers,” explained Brittain.

For example, this might include learning when to use “Mr” or “Mrs” so as not to alienate customers.

The important thing is for this kind of learning to come from the top – culture filters down from the top of a business, so it’s crucial to get it right.

Have a goal in mind

For the most part, the panel did not agree with the idea of LGBT+ quotas. However, having a goal in mind is a great way to focus your efforts.

Whether you want to increase the percentage of people that feel happy and respected enough to be who they are at work, or whether you want to improve employee engagement with diversity networks, having something to work towards can help you keep track of where you’ve come from – and where you’re going.

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