The harsh reality of inequality: Stonewall outlines why now is the time to push for inclusivity

For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our working life in ways we never could have imagined. None of us are immune to its unprecedented global impact and we all – employers and employees alike – have had to adapt. While we’re all continuing to navigate the impact of the pandemic, you might be wondering whether this is even the right time to be talking about inclusive workplaces.

The harsh reality of inequality: Stonewall outlines why now is the time to push for inclusivity

The reality is there’s actually never been a more important time to have conversations about what steps your organisation can – and should – be taking to be more inclusive. The coronavirus pandemic is bringing into sharp focus the harsh reality that inequalities – such as those based on race, class, gender, ability and sexual orientation – mean marginalised communities are among the hardest hit right now. This means diversity and inclusion can’t be kicked into the long grass, it needs to be at the heart of everything you’re doing, especially when it comes to supporting your LGBT staff and those from other minority groups.

The reality of inequalities among LGBT employees

What we know from Stonewall research is that more than a third of LGBT staff (35%) have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination, while one in five (18%) have experienced discrimination when applying for jobs because of who they are. The situation is even worse for more marginalised members of our community. Black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees are at a higher risk of abuse and are three times more likely to have lost their job compared to white LGBT staff. Trans people also face significant challenges, with a third (33%) having been the target of negative comments and discrimination from co-workers.    

These are more than just statistics; they represent the lives of LGBT people who might very well be your friends, family, colleagues and co-workers. It takes an extraordinary amount of energy for us to conceal important parts of ourselves and can increase feelings of worry and isolation at an already difficult time.

Creating a workplace that accepts everyone isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes great business sense. When staff feel comfortable and happy, it creates a more cohesive culture and they will perform much better than if they’re worrying about being treated differently, or even bullied, just for who they are.

Creating more inclusive workplaces

So if you’re looking for how you can make your organisation more LGBT-inclusive, a good place to start is your policies, practices and benefits. Businesses with high-performing staff typically have inclusive policies and benefits that apply to everyone. Yet we know that only three in five LGBT staff (61%) agree their workplace has equalities policies that protect lesbian, gay and bi people at work, but fewer than half (46%) say the same about protections for trans people at work.

Policies are the foundation of any workplace and making them LGBT-inclusive sends a signal that you value the identities of your LGBT staff. So you can start by auditing your policies and if you have one, you should involve your LGBT employee network so their lived experiences are reflected in any changes. Things you might find is that your discrimination and bullying policy doesn’t explicitly mention lesbian, gay, bi and trans identities or that your family leave policy isn’t inclusive of same-sex couples.

The University of South Wales Group is a shining example when it comes to LGBT-inclusive policies and benefits. Not only are their policies fully inclusive of all LGBT staff, with gender-neutral language and explicit statements of inclusion across all documents, they also have robust policies in place to support employees who are transitioning that deal with things like confidentiality and support networks.

It's worth remembering that LGBT-inclusive policies will only lead to better practice when they’re implemented correctly and consistently. So you should think about giving any staff who deal with issues of employment, like line managers, HR professionals, recruiting teams and occupational health teams some training and support so they can understand what’s expected and how to respond appropriately when an issue arises.

Alongside looking at some of your formal ways of working another crucial step is to remember to engage with your people directly around the values and behaviours you uphold as an organisation. Learning and development sessions, awareness raising events, coaching and mentoring and community engagement can all play a part in helping us to better understand our differences and different lived experiences – and the strength diversity and inclusion brings to an organisation!

More and more employers are waking up to the fact that, in order to succeed, you need your staff to feel confident to be themselves at work. Stonewall and our Diversity Champions programme is here to help you with making that a reality. No matter your role at a company, we all have a part to play in making sure that our workplaces and communities are places that accept and support LGBT people – without exception.

The author is Kate Williams, head of private sector memberships, Stonewall.

This article is provided by Stonewall.

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