Boston Consulting Group’s Mai-Britt Poulsen shares results from their “Out@Work” report

One in five LGBTQ+ respondents believe coming out is a disadvantage at work says Mai Britt Poulsen

Despite growing conversations around LGBT+ rights and inclusion in the workplace, a recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report found that 21% of UK workers felt ‘coming out’ would put them at a disadvantage. Considering this alarming finding, we spoke to Mai-Britt Poulsen, Managing Director and Senior Partner, Head of BCG for the UK, Netherlands, and Belgium, to find out more.

BCG’s Out@Work report – the findings

What’s the benefit to the individual and employer of coming out at work?

The main benefits for individuals being “fully out” at work include being just as comfortable as the majority “straight” group in speaking up, being themselves, and building friendships. In contrast, just 24% of closeted employees say they’re comfortable speaking up at work, with a further 18% stating that they feel they can be themselves in the workplace. Companies with a more inclusive culture can tap into a unique talent pool. These businesses benefit from employees with improved productivity and innovation, who are driven by successful teamwork, and who stay in their roles longer.

What should organisations do to make it easier for employees to come out in the workplace?

Organisations need to establish an inclusive workplace culture. One that supports employees to be their authentic selves at work. Fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion at all stages of the employee journey throughout the critical first year is key to achieving this. Here, we see five especially important areas of focus:

  • Foundations: Companies should have supportive HR policies and infrastructure in place and communicate them effectively. Inclusive policies and culture should be highlighted from day one, ensuring LGBTQ+ employees feel comfortable from the very beginning.
  • Recruiting: Businesses should target outreach to LGBTQ+ candidates and clearly communicate their inclusive policies and resources to candidates and new hires.
  • Onboarding: New LGBTQ+ employees should be connected with mentors and networks of LGBTQ+ colleagues who can help them navigate their careers and be an outlet for any concerns or issues.
  • Day-to-Day Work Environment. Business leaders need to create a respectful and inclusive culture from the top, which they are clearly vested and visible in. This culture must be reflected in management, with D&I metrics included within KPIs. Visible initiatives of this more inclusive culture could include gender-neutral bathrooms, or allowing employees to choose their gender, including non-binary, and specify their pronouns in internal systems. All of which creates a feeling of being ‘seen’.
  • Continued Engagement. LGBTQ+ diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and efforts should be a regular component of the company’s calendar. Have allyship programs to involve your non-LGBTQ+ employees, offering D&I trainings (such as unconscious bias) for everyone and simply facilitating authentic conversations across the different groups regarding D&I and lived experiences is a good idea.

What surprised you the most in the findings?

It is striking the degree to which people in what we would otherwise consider as “liberal” countries still perceive coming out in the workplace to be disadvantageous.

In France, for example, 36% of respondents saw it as a disadvantage to be out at work, with just 8% seeing it as an advantage. We saw similar trends in Belgium (35% vs 18%) and Spain (33% vs 23%).

For me, this highlights we all still have work to do, as businesses and as individuals, to ensure people feel confident bringing their authentic selves to work.

At BCG, I am inspired by the incredible talent we have in our LGBTQ+ community, and I strongly believe that businesses must have an inclusive culture or be at a disadvantage. For me, it is nothing short of a business imperative, and as leaders, we must set the example as senior allies.

What would deter an LGBTQ candidate from applying to a particular company or industry?

Inclusivity is key to attracting LGBTQ+ talent. People want to work in an environment where they feel accepted and confident to be their true selves, without judgement. Companies must offer this to attract and retain LGBTQ+ employees.

LGBTQ+ employees will also be discouraged from applying for certain roles if a business lacks formal diversity and inclusion commitments. A previous BCG study revealed that 70% of LGBTQ+ employees who routinely experience discrimination have either not applied or declined an offer from a company that lacked an inclusive culture; 59% quit their job for the same reason.

We hear a lot about workplace legislation that supports gender and ethnic inclusion on company boards. For example, the recent SEC’s approval of the NASDAQ proposal. Do we need something similar for the LGBTQ community?

The SEC’s approval of Nasdaq’s proposal to become the first exchange to make board diversity a requirement for its listed companies sets a great precedent that companies should start to follow. Addressing representation at the board level is key to truly moving the needle on corporate diversity. However, legislation must do more than simply address issues at the top. Businesses need to encourage and promote increased diversity and a more inclusive culture at all levels, which will help build a diverse and strong pipeline of future leaders.

Having a structured programme for all employees that offers sensitisation training on diversity, equity, and inclusion is one way to achieve this. This helps ensure that employee interactions with colleagues, direct managers, and leadership – what we call the “1,000 daily touchpoints”- foster inclusivity.

Companies create a more open and inclusive culture when employees feel appreciated and respected throughout their daily touchpoints. This helps LGBTQ+ workers feel more confident in coming out and being themselves and more empowered to do their best work. All of which ultimately enhances a company’s opportunities for success.

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