As LGBT history month draws to a close, Stephen Frost founder of Frost Included Ltd. outlines how companies can foster a culture of equality and inclusivity 

Stephen frost colour

Stephen Frost, CEO, Frost Included Ltd.

It is true that the world has come a long way in LGBT+ inclusion that should be celebrated. From the 47 states recognising partnership rights to the 72 states offering some form of employment protection for LGBT+ people. While all of this progress have been made, in more than half of our world LGBT+ people do not have protection from discrimination in the workplace by law. In western countries where there is some protection, at least one third of LGBT+ employees are not out at work.

The Empathy Deficit

By being gay in a largely straight organisation you are going against the ‘norm’, putting yourself at a disadvantage. It is assumed that people will have a partner of the opposite sex. Breaking that assumption requires courage and effort which can detract from the job.

A few years ago one of my clients who operated in the Middle East offered one of their star performers a promotion opportunity which meant relocating to Qatar. While most people would be thinking about the working conditions or their salary, his concern was whether he would be able to take his male partner with him. 

There is huge empathy deficit in many large corporations. The result is many companies do not create environments where great talent can thrive and flourish. We have tended to merely focus on specific contexts, short-term results and commercial returns. Those in management positions need to develop the empathy that allows them to appreciate what it might be like to come from a different background.

Empathy lies at the heart of true inclusion, it means not assuming that everyone is like you and being able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. If employees can bring their whole self into work then they will be able to do their best work and be the most productive for your company.

An empathic culture is particularly important for Millennials who are demanding a different kind of working experience: they are looking for connections; they want their voices — and their workplace requirements — to be heard. In most cases, organisations are making slow progress in meeting diversity targets so it’s becoming widely accepted that we need to recognise the wide range of social, biological, psychological and organisational factors that influence how we think and operate.

Celebrating Diversity

LGBT+ equality is perhaps less about LGBT+ people and more about straight people and the lack of empathy to be able to be able to see the need for inclusion. Whenever there’s an ‘LGBT+ initiative’ at work, for example, how often have you heard others say, “where’s my network/programme/quota”? The truth is, it’s not just a zero-sum game of straight v gay but about enlarging the pie – how straight people can benefit from LGBT+ people advancing in all walks of life.

Diversity is a reality. There are the obvious demographic differences amongst us; gender, race, ethnicity and so on. Then there are the less obvious, but none the less critical, differences such as sexual orientation, hidden disabilities, cognitive ability and persuasion, political view, personality type. But ultimately diversity is infinite – no two people are the same, and it is this diversity of people that makes it valuable.

Companies need to be using their communications to ensure straight people, especially men, realise diversity is about them too - International Men’s Day is on 19 November! Once this foundation is laid a culture of empathy and acceptance of diversity can flourish within an organisation.

Signpost You Are LGBT+ Friendly

A meritocracy requires that talented people can see a career path open to them. Having diverse role models that have successfully navigated the system without compromising their identity will allow LGBT+ employees to see that the workplace is an inclusive environment. Using your employee network and employee resource groups (ERGs) in this regard can be especially powerful.

LGBT+ people might be less likely to put themselves forward compared with straight applicants for jobs and promotions, as well as being more wary of culture and psychological safety. So if you don’t pre-emptively assure them you are LGBT+ friendly, they won’t necessarily assume you are. Companies therefore need to be proactive in seeking out and encouraging LGBT+ people to advance through leadership development programmes, reverse mentoring and networking. This all adds to the senior cadre of LGBT+ employees you have in your network.

People are inspired by leaders that believe in an inclusive mission. It’s more effective to lead by example and show rather than tell. There’s a saying that goes, people will forget what you said, forget what you did, but never forget how you made them feel. This has never been truer than with LGBT+ employees.