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What does LGBT inclusion have to do with business?

Many people are celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride season across the UK and the world this summer.

As well as being a public demonstration of support for LGBT inclusion, Pride is also a time where we tend to reflect on how far we’ve come, and look to how far we have left to go.

But with recent positive legislative and cultural change in the UK, it’s hard to know what should come next for LGBT equality, and what this has to do with business.

From where I sit, business has a positive role to play in addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities.

A primary focus is making workplaces more welcoming: 62% of LGBT graduates choose to go back in the closet when they start their first job, and only 14% of LGBT people think that the industry they work in is highly inclusive.

I believe that the key to changing this is to make LGBT inclusion a leadership issue. We need to see more LGBT and Allies in senior positions in order to change the culture of their organisations through sustained, inclusive leadership.

“From where I sit, business has a positive role to play in addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities”

One of our studies found that people believe middle management to be particularly challenging. Only 24.12% of respondents said they believe the middle management of their organisation to be highly inclusive, compared to 44.49% who would say the same about the leadership of their company.

To me, this suggests that leaders have started to make clear they support LGBT inclusivity, but their efforts have not always been enough to impact the core of their organisation. In other words, CEOs have started doing the right thing, but they need to keep doing it.

I have recently met with many senior business leaders to discuss this. Encouragingly, many are beginning to understand that promoting diversity and inclusion is not a compliance issue, it’s an opportunity.

We know from our own research that being out at work is better for an employee’s performance; and now businesses recognise that cultivating an LGBT-friendly workplace is good for overall productivity.

“Greater diversity in the workplace is a win-win situation, and judging by our growing list of member companies, I’d say that more and more business leaders understand this”

And it’s no accident that Coca-Cola’s 2014 Super Bowl ad featured a pair of gay parents; consumer polling by Google has shown that 47% of consumers under the age of 24 will respond well to a brand that runs an equality themed ad.

In 2013, rebutting claims that support of same-sex marriage had hurt profits, CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz stated “not every decision is an economic decision… We want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds.”

More recently, OUTstanding member company Barclays has acted as the headline sponsor for Pride in London for the second year running, supporting LGBT inclusion with their ‘Ping For Pride’ campaign.

Positive, sustained initiatives promoting LGBT inclusion are good for business. The growing number of prominent LGBT role models and allies in business, the cultural impact of LGBT-inclusive marketing, and the economic benefits of a wider talent pool and happier, more productive workforce all help to reconnect business with its broader social purpose.

Greater diversity in the workplace is a win-win situation, and judging by our growing list of member companies, I’d say that more and more business leaders understand this.

 

 

Neil Bentley is the CEO of the LGBT professional network OUTstanding, and former deputy Director-General and Chief Operating Officer of the CBI.


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