How can organisations support and recognise LGBT+ talent?
Ben Farmer, UK Senior HR Manager, Amazon
Earlier this year, Stonewall highlighted that a third of LGBT+ staff have hidden their sexuality at work for fear of discrimination, while a fifth of staff have been the target of negative conduct from colleagues in the last year. In this feature, Ben Farmer, UK Senior HR Manager, Amazon, shares why ignoring the issue is no longer an option for businesses, and how Amazon is leading the march…
Although there’s no doubt that businesses have made great strides in supporting LGBT+ employees in recent years, these figures send a strong message that there is still much to do.
LGBT+ inclusion is top-of-mind for the business community, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because of the broad benefits of creating an inclusive culture. LGBT-inclusive workplaces help companies to attract and retain top talent, boosting their appeal to growing consumer segments and helping them to innovate for underserved markets. On top of that, the diversity of thought provided by a fully inclusive workplace can promote the innovation and creativity required to drive modern businesses forwards.
In my role as a judge at this year’s Pink News Awards, I was reminded of the excellent work being carried out by a host of organisations in the public and private sectors. The experience reaffirmed my belief that we need to continually evolve our practices in this area and remain vigilant in ensuring a safe and inclusive workplace for the LGBT+ community. So what more can organisations do to continuously support and recognise LGBT+ employees?
Company policies are the bare minimum
Clear and robust policies should be the bare minimum of work to support LGBT+ employees – the basis of a broader culture of inclusion and diversity rather than the full extent of a company’s efforts. Improved ways of working on a day-to-day basis will be an important way to tackle discrimination and unconscious bias, while simple initiatives and habits that drive objective decision-making will always deliver better outcomes than any policy.
For example, reducing unconscious bias by ensuring that meeting documents do not carry a named author and that decisions are based on data and evidence rather than whoever has the loudest voice. Employee assessments should also ideally be measured against a consistent and objective standard that is applied evenly across the entire company, ensuring that the playing field is level for everybody. At Amazon, our Leadership Principles set a universal standard that we all work towards every day and are the foundation of all interviews and employee assessments.
Ultimately there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but clear policies matched by a positive and inclusive culture will be key in fostering greater diversity. As with any company-wide initiative, loud and visible advocacy from senior leaders can be a powerful force for change.
Help allies to be visible and well-informed
Well-informed allies will be empowered to influence others, challenge negative views and support colleagues. For example, one simple change we made at Amazon is the option for over half a million employees to add preferred pronouns on their personal internal directory page. Any employee can display their preferred pronouns, and I’ve been encouraged by the number of senior leaders in the UK demonstrating support by doing so themselves.
The rainbow flag is also a powerful symbol of pride among members of the LGBT+ community and allies. Inspired by Stonewall’s fantastic Rainbow Laces campaign, organisations could make rainbow lanyards, stationary and avatar ribbons available to anybody who wants to signal their support. For Pride month this year, we added rainbow colours to the stairs in the entrance to our Shoreditch head office in London, I’m delighted that people loved them so much we decided to keep them there all year.
Promoting the broader benefits of diversity at manager level can also help to foster top-down advocacy. With research showing that diversity of thought is ultimately good for a company’s bottom line, promoting diversity naturally includes promoting the fact that it’s also good for business. Educating and training management on a regular basis is essential. For example, at Amazon we encourage managers to sign-up to our Team Inclusion Programme, a manager-led programme that enables teams to identify ways to increase their inclusion, and ultimately drive a better team experience and effectiveness.
Engage with the community
No matter how diverse and forward-thinking, organisations and individuals may still have blind spots to sensitive issues even resulting in well-meaning interactions coming across as negative, prejudiced or rude. In truth, no amount of training, awareness or advocacy can replicate the lived experience of somebody who considers themselves a member of the LGBT+ community. Those experiences vary hugely, and they all need to be considered equally.
For this reason, taking the time to engage with the community is invaluable. That means taking the time to listen, learn and educate others. Sometimes it means challenging regressive views head-on. It also means organisations should be visible and loud in their support for LGBT+ employees throughout the year, rather than piping up during Pride Month only to disappear for the rest of the year – as this is sometimes perceived as opportunistic or phoney.
Employee affinity groups can be a brilliant way to engage the community, and they can also give your LGBT+ employees a platform to engage the wider community. Glamazon, our LGBT+ affinity group, is a voluntary and employee-led group that identifies key values and organisational objectives, before taking them forward through a variety of channels including training, mentoring, social events and consultancy on a host of issues. This summer, for example, we worked closely with Glamazon members to develop new company-wide transgender guidelines that have already had a positive impact in helping all employees to support their transgender colleagues.
I’ll leave you with the words of Luca Sale, Amazon’s Head of Solutions Architecture EU and Chair of Glamazon, for inspiration:
“I’m lucky to have an employer that is both understanding and supportive, open to creating a culture of acceptance and encouraging employees to take ownership of inclusivity… Every time I come out at work, I have an opportunity to learn more about others and to build relationships based on me being my true self.”
The Women in IT Awards Series is the technology world’s most prominent and influential diversity program. On 28 March 2019, the awards will come to New York for the second time, taking place at the Cipriani on 42nd St. Nominations are now open for these prestigious awards. Click here to nominate yourself, a colleague or peer!