Companies such as Accenture are at the forefront of LGBT-friendly workplaces. Ignoring openly gay employees means cutting yourself off from 20pc of the workforce, say advocates.
What a difference a few decades make. Just 25 years after MI5 lifted its ban on gay employees, the organisation topped the Stonewall charity’s 2016 Workplace Equality Index, a list which has become a national benchmark for LGBT-friendly workplaces.
But this turnaround doesn’t mean that LGBT employees the length and breadth of the country are out and proud.
Statistics from the index show that many still do not disclose their sexuality at work: only 33pc of gay men and 23pc of lesbians are comfortable being out to everybody – that is, their colleagues, managers, customers and clients. Just 12pc of bisexual employees feel the same.
When Katy Cooper, a digital technology consultant at Accenture, began work at the firm 10 years ago, she wasn’t open about her bisexuality.
“I was trying to establish myself in a male-dominated industry, and there was a lot of misunderstanding about being bisexual – that you’re promiscuous, or you can’t make your mind up,” she says.
The turning point came when an ex-girlfriend died in an accident. While her colleagues were supportive, they presumed her ex was a he, making her feel disingenuous.
Ms Cooper praises Accenture’s LGBT network and mentoring programme: “Who you date doesn’t make any difference to how you do your job, but your ability to excel at it and be the best you can be relies on your ability to be yourself and to be authentic.”
Nick Barnett, a senior manager in advanced customer strategy at Accenture, points out that a huge amount of energy goes into being vague about your sexuality.
“You find yourself censoring your language – I call it the pronoun game,” he says. “We did this, they did that.” Today, he is a leading member of Accenture’s LGBT network.
He cites role models and allies as vital for a truly inclusive workplace culture. Working with numerous clients means you’re not just coming out once, Barnett says, but multiple times, which takes a lot of emotional energy.
An internal Facebook page at Accenture allows employees to declare they are LGBT allies by using a rainbow badge on their profile. And as for making it stick – being inclusive and valuing diversity are measured in performance reviews, Barnett says, as well as in staff satisfaction surveys.
“The real demonstration [of success] is the number of staff who come up to me and say ‘I came out and it’s been absolutely fantastic’,” he adds.
But when it comes to the job market as a whole, it’s not always easy to identify LGBT-friendly employers. Adrien and Pierre Gaubert set out to tackle this issue by co-founding myGwork, a career networking site which has been dubbed “the gay LinkedIn”.
Launched last May, it now has 5,000 registered users and is designed to help people, particularly graduates, find progressive LGBT workplaces, along with role models and mentors.
More established networks and forums include InterLaw for the legal sector and Interbank for those working in financial services. Daniel Winterfeldt, co-chairman of InterLaw and a partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, says LGBT employees are still hindered when it comes to career progression in the sector.
“There’s been a huge change around recruitment, but there are very few LGBT people in senior management or managing partner roles,” he points out. “Things are moving, but we all know we need to do more.”
Michael Horridge, a vice president in Morgan Stanley’s fixed income division, was chairman of Interbank between 2010 and 2013.
He says that the financial sector has long been forward-thinking when it comes to LGBT issues. But that doesn’t mean it should rest on its laurels, he adds, particularly because diversity is in an employer’s own best interests.
“We have to compete and that means supporting our employees and attracting the most talented people. You can’t hire the best people if you ignore 20 per cent of the population.”
Source: The Telegraph