A new dialogue
Stonewall currently works with around 750 businesses, some of which reach out to the charity, while others are targeted in sectors “where there is a social good to be achieved. We knew the building industry was a low participating sector but there’s huge potential to transform attitudes, such as through apprenticeships,” Hunt explains. “A lot of LGBT people who would benefit from working with a good employer drop out of school, so we’ve been working with the building industry on that.”
She is pleased that, in some industries, the dialogue has moved on from “how do we increase the number of LGBT employees?” to a more nuanced conversation across sectors. For example, “banks are now concerned about how they are supporting their LGBT staff working in Dubai, while police forces are worrying about how to ensure young LGBT people don’t become anti-social if they’ve been excluded from school”.
Industries that started taking LGBT+ issues seriously some ten years ago are now reaping the rewards, Hunt says, highlighting financial and professional services as key players. “EY has seen that staff who are able to be themselves are more productive to the tune of $150,000 per annum. But for every business that gets it, there’s an organisation that still can’t spell lesbian. We assume that capitalism relies on innovation, but if you’ve got the same type of people in your workforce being innovative in the same ways, it’s a major business flaw.”
Surprisingly, two industries that struggle with the LGBT+ agenda are hospitality and media. Hunt also feels there is much work to do around the public sector, due, in part, to a lack of funding and available training. She sees the most potential for progress in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), where “there are pockets of good practice”, explaining that small companies tend to consider diversity from the perspective of mitigating risk, rather than transformation.
The tendency, among some organisations, to view diversity initiatives as an add-on is incredibly frustrating for Hunt and a recurring theme in our discussion. She argues that even if your workforce looks very different, if they all think the same, it’s a major flaw.
“It’s all very well letting your gay staff ‘be themselves’ at work, but if they all look, act and think the same, that’s just a gay version of what you’ve already got,” she says. “Years ago the battle was about LGBT representation, now it’s about ensuring the Asian lesbian, the bisexual mother – any of these people – are able to be themselves at work too.”
She believes change will happen when organisations stop thinking about ‘diversity’ and start thinking in terms of culture. “Most workplaces have been built on the ‘survival of the fittest’ idea. If you want to capitalise on diversity, you have to enable every single individual to bring their whole self to work.”
The moment this clicks is when senior management links diversity to organisational purpose, she observes: “For MI5 [#1 employer in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index] their mission is to keep the country safe, so they acknowledge that they can’t just have White men in chinos around the table.”