In honour of National Student Pride, TARGETjobs spoke to representatives from major UK employers about the shifting attitudes towards diversity and inclusion and their personal experiences in the workplace. They told us that while there are long-established and much talked about benefits to having a diverse workforce, the bigger benefit is that you don’t have to lie about who you are all day long.
Coming out at work
Ashley Hever relocated to London to become talent acquisition director for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. He thought this would be an opportunity to be himself at work: ‘I just really struggled to get those words out my mouth,’ says Ashley. ‘I'm gay and I couldn't say it to my parents, couldn't say it to my friends and couldn't say it at work. I lived this life where I was coming into work on a Friday with all my stories in place – what I was doing this weekend and who I was going to see so that when anyone asked me I'd be like “Yep, I'm going with my friends from university or I'm meeting this auntie or that uncle” just to, to really try and put people off any kind of scent. It had a massive impact on me as an employee.’
It was only when Ashley had met the man that he would go on to marry that he managed to get the courage to come out to his mum and later his colleagues. He had good colleagues supporting him and now wants to do the same for the business he works for.
‘I didn’t realise the pressure that I was putting on myself. I was wasting 60% of my working life worrying about what other people were thinking. I look back now and I'm a ten times better employee than I was then because I don't have that thing in the back of my head biting away at me,’ he adds.
Ashley went on to be a role model for others at Enterprise, supporting junior colleagues and establishing a wider network for others within the business, which has seen record attendance even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Researching employers beforehand
Mariana Ceccotti, now a manager at KPMG, originally came to the UK from Brazil on a scholarship. She identified as LGBTQ+ from a very early age and made inclusivity one of her top priorities when job hunting.
‘Even before I joined the firm, I was already looking at the tonal equality index to see how companies were rated, I was going to LGBTQ+-specific recruitment fairs and meeting different people and I chose KPMG because of the people I met and because of the chairs who told me about how KPMG had invested in all these different programmes and had a really great global strategy,’ explains Mariana. ‘It was important for me to know that, globally, we're having a positive impact for LGBTQ+ people as well.’
One of the first things she did upon joining was email the LGBTQ+ network at KPMG to find out how to get involved. She was recently promoted and says that her involvement in the network has played a big role:
‘A large part of my case [around promotion] was all the work that I'm doing around inclusion, talking to our senior leaders, or senior execs, about how they can be more inclusive. You can really see the shift in priorities and how putting inclusion at the forefront is important,’ she says. ‘There's now a dual relationship where people who are more junior or new to the firm are having the opportunities to go and influence conversations by giving these ideas and inputs on diverse topics.’
Move away from tokenism
The shift in attitudes from the top down was a running theme for the webinar, but there is always the danger that a company attempting to take steps to improve inclusion in the workplace will do so in a manner that is tokenistic or just for show. Sophie Kershaw, risk assurance senior associate at PwC, explains how they’re taking steps to mitigate such an effect.
‘We have a rainbow lanyard, which other companies probably have too, even if it's not an LGBTQ+ one. Everybody was wanting one of these when we brought them in and I suppose they look pretty good for cosmetic reasons,’ says Sophie. ‘We wanted to make sure that people were wearing them for the right reasons. So, when we give somebody a lanyard now we give them a charter that explains their commitment – this isn’t an official thing you have to sign – which explains that “By taking this lanyard I am agreeing to talk about LGBTQ+ people, I'm agreeing to be an ally and I will fight for their cause and I will talk about it”. It's really important to not just be a bystander but also to acknowledge that some of the people who are allies are watching what you do, because they're not out yet. It’s their way to get closer. It can be hard to get that balance right sometimes without putting people off.’
Trans inclusion at work
Trans inclusion can sometimes be a more difficult topic to talk about. Trans communities worldwide still suffer discrimination, violence and bullying, often with little government intervention to stop it. Georgina Court, global inclusion specialist at law firm Clifford Chance, explains how the firm has taken action against trans discrimination in the workplace, both internally and externally.
‘We have people in our network who have transitioned at work and we have all manner of different gender identities as well – we have non-binary people, we have gender fluid people and we have trans people,’ says Georgina. ‘We've made sure that we're really vocally and explicitly supportive of trans people. When we joined Trans in the City [a collaboration that raises awareness of trans, non-binary and gender diversity in business], we were the first organisation that hosted it and we signed up to the human rights campaign. We had our CEO, as well as our regional managing partner and global managing partner, write to the government and say, “The limitations that you're putting on trans people in society are going to be bad for business and they're not enforceable in the workplace. We refuse to enforce them”. There are some businesses and some organisations that are quite nervous around this conversation; they're worried they're going to alienate some groups of people. If organisations are not taking a stance around trans inclusion, they're very quickly going to be losing people – more young people today are asking for firms to be explicit about trans inclusion, because the conversation out there is so nasty. It's really only a matter of time before, in the same way that we saw people putting pressure up around Black Lives Matter, we see people putting pressure on firms to ask “Why aren't you saying something?”. They need to know that if they don’t take a stance, they will be losing good people from the workplace. I'm glad that I work for an organisation that is being super supportive.’
Watch the video above to hear more personal stories from the panel about their life experiences in the workplace and to see what companies are doing to make diversity and inclusion a top priority.
Tips for LGBTQ+ jobseekers
The panel offered some insights for anyone who would like to make diversity a top priority when considering prospective employers:
- Consider looking at equality indexes for employers to see how they rank
- Meet and speak to representatives from employers that you are interested in
- Attend LGBTQ+-specific recruitment events
- Research how employers engage with different communities
- Connect with Stonewall or industry-specific groups
- Explore local communities and charities
- Have a look at what employees of each company post on LinkedIn