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Are LGBTQ+ staff being adequately supported in the workplace?

Francis Keepfer tells HRNews about research showing a ‘mixed picture’ when it comes to support at work for the LGBTQ+ community

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    More than half of HR and D&I managers think their company currently provides ‘significant support’ to LGBTQ+ employees, but almost two thirds say they have witnessed discrimination towards sexual minorities at work. Separate research suggests employees’ sexual orientation and gender identity may have hindered career progression. We’ll hear from a D&I specialist on what he makes of the findings.

    This is the survey of 136 HR and D&I professionals by VinciWorks which has been reported by People Management and it shows a mixed picture. It found a quarter (23%) had witnessed discrimination against LGBTQ+ staff ‘several times’, but a third (33%) said they had never seen such incidents. On the training front, a quarter (25%) said they planned to roll out sexual orientation training to their employees to combat discrimination in the workplace in the near future.

    Nick Henderson-Mayo, head of diversity and inclusion at VinciWorks, stressed the importance of training to educate the whole workforce about the challenges that sexual minority staff face. He says:  “Having more comprehensive training sessions that are shared with all employees allows sexual minority staff to see that their organisation cares about them and creates a culture of respect for LGBTQ+ employees that helps brands build strong, inclusive reputations.”

    Meanwhile, separate research from myGwork shines a light on the importance of this issue in attracting and retaining talent. It found that 70% of LGBTQ+ women and non-binary professionals continue to experience discrimination at work globally, and 70% said they would leave their employer if it failed to provide an inclusive workplace.

    So, let’s get a view on what this means for employers and what more could be done to improve matters both for the individuals in this minority group and, at the same time, help the business. Francis Keepfer is an employment lawyer and D&I specialist and he joined me by phone from Manchester to discuss the findings:

    Francis Keepfer: “I thought it was a really interesting article, lots of very interesting data in there. I suppose on the one hand, it's really good news. The article stated that more than half of EDI managers think their company provides significant support and that's really encouraging and it suggests that LGBTQ+ colleagues are now being supported in a way that perhaps they weren't previously. From own perspective, I'm providing more advice at the moment on organisations who are developing and working on policies to support employees transitioning from one gender to another, for example, and that's certainly something we weren't seeing previously. So, I think that's reflected in the data. On the other hand, I suppose it's also quite disheartening to see that nearly two thirds of managers have witnessed discrimination towards sexual minorities, and nearly a quarter stating they've witnessed it on more than one occasion. So, despite the positive noises coming out of this article, I think the data shows that there's still obviously a long way to go. What the article isn't necessarily clear on is whether those incidents that were witnessed by DEI managers happened more recently, or historically. You would like to think that they happened historically, and the data is showing a general trend towards more support and fewer of these incidents happening, but it's not entirely clear.”

    Joe Glavina: “What do you make of the comments about upping the level of training for staff in this area, Francis? A quarter of the firms questioned did have plans to do that ‘in the near future.’

    Francis Keepfer: “What I'm always telling clients is that it's all well and good having a training programme in place, but it's not really enough to rollout a ‘once a year’ training programme, maybe an online module that they've bought off the shelf somewhere. It’s not really enough to roll that out once a year and then put that back in the cupboard for another 12 months. It’s about actually taking that training and then using that to encourage a genuine culture of respect and equality for all staff and making sure people can bring their whole selves to work.”

    Joe Glavina: “As you say, this is an area where it can be expensive for employers if they get it wrong. Do you see many discrimination claims brought by LGBT staff, Francis?”

    Francis Keepfer: “I see lots of discrimination claims from clients, and they can be really, really tricky and damaging for organisations not only from a reputational perspective - of course no employer wants to have those sorts of allegations levied against it - but also from a financial perspective. Unfair dismissal claims are capped at a year’s salary but discrimination claims, whether it's on the basis of sexual orientation or any of the protected characteristics, are unlimited in terms of compensation so they can also be really damaging from a financial perspective. So, I think it is incumbent on employers to act upon some of the things that are suggested by this article, training being one of them, but, as I’ve mentioned previously, about actually using that as a base to actually go ahead and create a much more inclusive culture, and that's a sure-fire way to prevent some of these claims being brought and to minimise risk and, I suppose, overall, to just create a better workplace.”

    Joe Glavina: “As well as the cost of claims and the risk of reputational damage, potentially, there’s the issue of attracting and retaining talent. Thoughts on that.”

    Francis Keepfer: “Yes, it's really important to make sure, particularly, as you say, to make sure businesses are retaining talent and, again, one of the ways to do that is to make sure that you're creating an inclusive and equal environment where LGBTQ employees feel they can bring their whole selves to work as any other employee can and I think the article is quite interesting in the sense that it suggests that 70% of LGBTQ+ professionals would actually leave their employer if it failed to provide an inclusive workplace. So, it's really clear what the risks are, that if employers fail to create an inclusive workforce then they are going to lose out. That's not only going to damage their business from a culture perspective, i.e. they're losing employees who give them that diversity of thought, they are also going to take a hit from an employee workforce perspective.”

    That People Management article is called: ‘Half of HR and EDI leaders say their organisation provides ‘significant’ support to LGBTQ+ staff – but two thirds have witnessed discrimination, survey finds.’ We’ve put a link to it in the transcript of this programme for you.


    - Link to People Management article

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