Challenge your LGBT inclusion assumptions

Written by
Ian Johnson

06 Sep 2017

06 Sep 2017 • by Ian Johnson

Policies for inclusion in many countries are better than ever and society in general seems more accepting of people who are LGBT than ever before. 

But data from the last half decade shows that even as organisational policies on LGBT workplace inclusion are now noticeably enhanced at many workplaces, key metrics tracking day-to-day lived LGBT workplace experiences during this period have barely moved — or in some instances even gone backwards.

Don't believe your own PR

The past decade has seen a massive increase in visibility for LGBT inclusion topics at managerial level. 

A number of measures prove this: from larger than ever LGBT workplace conference attendances — Out & Equal just hosted more than 4,000 diversity delegates at its annual Workplace Summit in Florida, to seemingly endless awards and 'Top 100' lists promoting the accomplishments of LGBT diversity leaders. The Economist hosts its second LGBT inclusion conference in March 2017.

LGBT people at work have never had it so good, right?

Metrics are your mirror

Out Now undertakes the world’s largest global LGBT research initiative. Commenced in 1992, the LGBT2030 research program measures responses from over 100,000 LGBT people and workplace Allies from across 25 countries. 

The findings are concerning. 

In the US in 2010, 44% of all US LGBT employees felt able to be openly LGBT (‘out’) to all colleagues at work (LGBT2030, 2010). By 2016 this figure fell to 38%. 

We know (DOWNLOAD: LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case http://OutNow.LGBT report, Out Now 2015) that employees able to be out to all their colleagues become 11% more likely to stay with a current employer and report increased productivity outcomes of +30% when compared to their colleagues who are ‘in the closet’ at work. 

We are tracking a substantial disconnect between those ever improving inclusion policies and the lived experiences of LGBT people at work. One reason we think is an over-reliance on workplace indexes that ‘reward’ organisations that put such policies in place. The policies are necessary but the metrics show they are on their own by no means sufficient. 

Discouraging? Not necessarily. Negative outcomes are often opportunities for improvement and growth in disguise.

Think local aka: Fix your own backyard

Don’t be afraid to become better.
Out Now is celebrating 25 years of LGBT business development work. What we focus on is the direction of travel, making sure clients consistently focus on their own areas for greatest potential improvement. 
It is necessary, but not sufficient to have adequate management buy-in to the diversity premise. 
Our CBA approach (‘Corporate Benchmark Auditing’) is now being rolled out into workplaces in Europe, UK and USA. Clients undergo anonymous, independent audit sampling of their workforces (LGBT and non-LGBT) and Out Now then compares their CBA results to national LGBT2030 metrics across key variables that most impact on LGBT people and LGBT Allies at work. 
Letting employees honestly describe what is going wrong in their own workplace is usually the best way to discover practical ways to fix it. Taking a diagnostic measure and implementing tactics to refine inclusion strategies as a result makes business sense. It is not so glamorous as a black-tie LGBT PR event, but it generates real bottom-line benefits to most businesses.   
Clients need to be willing to let go of factors they have come to love — like appearing in a ’Top 50’ list of out professionals or chasing a high score on a workplace index — as key goals. 

It is usually not easy to face finding out ways in which you are weakest. But doing this is essential, if you genuinely want to make sure your LGBT inclusion efforts are squarely focused on LGBT employee outcomes — undistracted by 'high-viz' LGBT inclusion PR opportunities.  

Some related disclosures: Ian Johnson is a member of The Economist magazine LGBT Advisory Panel. He has been a regular presenter at Out & Equal workplace conferences in the US since 2010. Out Now is the 'Community Initiative' category sponsor for the Australian LGBTI Awards 2017.