Out-Law Analysis | 05 Apr 2022 | 3:06 pm | 2 min. read
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a high priority in many organisations’ agendas, with a strong recognition that helping employees feel represented and comfortable at work will only bring benefits.
As global businesses continue to adapt to a more flexible working environment in the wake of the pandemic, they also need to address how to handle D&I issues across dispersed locations. Being truly multinational cuts across many intersections, jurisdictional laws, cultural norms and behaviours.
A distributed leadership team for representative groups, such as LGBTQ+ networks, can help all those identifying within a group to feel supported and included.
Even before the pandemic took hold, Pinsent Masons had appointed representatives for its LGBTQ+ network in each of its 27 office locations, with LGBTQ+ allies acting as network champions in some of those offices too.
Appointing someone as an office representative is a good starting point. However, the next step is equipping them.
Head of Legal Project Management
For some people, work is the place where they can express their full identity, not at home. The office is seen as a safe space, and representatives and allies play an important role in fostering that safe space
Teaming new representatives up with a more experienced person to mentor and guide them is one option, and can provide both mentor and mentee with new skills and insight. For the mentee, it is a chance to build a profile, learn how to chair meetings and delegate; for the mentor, working with others can give a view into a different culture.
Maintaining these links and relationships while working remotely is entirely possible using technology such as video conferencing and chat groups. The pandemic accelerated the use of these, but also showed how important LGBTQ+ networks can be for some.
The pandemic affected everyone in different ways: while parents may have struggled with home-schooling children, single people risked being isolated from society and have been among the first to come back to the office in search of social contact.
Some employees may not be out in the family home, and attending virtual events may be difficult, leading to further feelings of exclusion and isolation. For some people, work is the place where they can express their full identity, not at home. The office is seen as a safe space, and representatives and allies play an important role in fostering that safe space.
D&I networks can be used effectively to help drive organisational priorities such as education and engagement, mental health and employee well-being, and creating an inclusive culture across a business.
Although some resources such as Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index are focused on LGBTQ+ inclusion, using these as gap analysis tools can also drive wider change within a company. For example, updating HR policies to ensure inclusive wording for all staff can lead to changes such as allowing for extended paternity leave for fathers in heterosexual relationships.
There should also be attention paid to global differences. LGBTQ+ means different things in different countries or different office locations, and events such as Pride can happen at different times around the world.
Office champions can help businesses deliver D&I goals, and with support from office heads, it is possible for local ownership and control of the D&I agenda.
An example at Pinsent Masons was the campaign led by the firm’s LGBTQ+ network representative and office head in Northern Ireland campaigning for marriage equality, which was supported by a number of large businesses and continued from 2018 to October 2020, when civil partnerships could be converted to marriages.
The campaign reflected the importance of being able to attract and retain the best talent and a recognition that equality can lead to a vibrant and competitive economy. The fact it was supported by senior management was hugely powerful; top-down commitment to D&I can make important strides in legislative and behavioural and cultural change.
However, to really drive change, D&I networks need to be active. Representatives should meet regularly, and agreed actions should be acted on. Different offices should commit to deliver on overarching goals agreed by the network as a whole.
Communication is also key: office representatives should be active in a business’s internal social media and chat channels to keep D&I on the agenda and a topic of conversation.
Achieving D&I in a global and dispersed workforce is not easy, but it is achievable – and it can make a real impact on culture and wellbeing for all.