LGBT inclusion post-Brexit: Why diversity is crucial now more than ever before

In the current divisive climate, how can financial services organisations make sure they are investing in the success of LGBT employees across the board?

Diversity and inclusion have never been as important to our socioeconomic success than it is today, in our post-Brexit climate of uncertainty and upheaval. This according to people management experts in the financial services sector, speaking at City & Financial Global’s LGBT conference today.

The statistics are horrifying. In three months after the Brexit vote, homophobic attacks in the UK rose 147 per cent. In what Swinton Insurance’s Richard Beaven calls an “anything goes” society, the LGBT community is just as vulnerable as people of colour, and women in the UK.

Strength in an “anything goes” society

“We’re sitting at very divisive juncture politically. There’s a risk that we sit inside our own culture bubbles and surround ourselves with people who share our exact same views, and this is contrary to diversity,” said Mark Buckle, global head of compliance learning at Barclays. “It’s important for organisations to be careful not to shut down any form of debate because that will exclude and not respect people’s views. We need to hear the naysayers and work with them rather than shut it out.”

While organisations should stand up for diversity and culture, it shoudn’t exclude people who think differently.

But hate crime statistics show a different picture. “It’s horrendous. In the name of Brexit, people can now be racist or xenophobic. In the US, it seems ok to be against anything; women, gays, people of colour, because you have someone at the top saying it’s ok,” Beaven added. “For us in companies, it’s absolutely critical to stick to the moral compass of our own firms. Allowing the debate is one thing, but we cannot allow our businesses to slip into old behaviours of the past.”

In the wake of Brexit, double work around inclusion because it’s crucial not to slip back.

Box-ticking may be the first step

Most diversity and inclusion specialists are wary of box-ticking and “pink-washing”, but for Kimberley Bird, IT director, group systems at Lloyds Banking Group, it may not be ideal, but it’s the first step for real change.

“Organisations may start ticking boxes, but that means they have to address some key questions: do we understand all the policies, have we implemented relevant policies and so on. That’s a necessary step for real inclusion. It drives really good behaviours and pushes organisations beyond box-ticking,” Bird said.

In the early stages of building a diverse and inclusive culture, organisations should shake off their fears of embarrassment, said Barclays’ Mark Buckle. “Don’t be embarrassed to look to specialists to help you. There’s a culture of embarrassment in some organisations, that if you go looking for help externally, it’s not genuine. But we need to reach out to the communities around us to really be inclusive.”

“You have to look at other communities and intersections, because individuals are multidimensional. They’re more than gay, female, or Christian. You’ll only really understand your workforce and customers by reaching out these communities.”

Empowering individuals to step forward as role models

Finding strong LGBT voices in senior roles in financial services is an uphill task. There’s still a lot of stigma facing individuals when in leadership roles, but having more role models step up can help the entire workforce.

Lloyds Bank’s Kimberley Bird realised this when she stepped forward as a trans woman in management. “If you look at the press trans people have had in the past 10 years, it’s enormous. But it’s not surprising that senior people in organisations are slow to stand up. There aren’t that many senior role models for other trans people in organisations, so many of them rely on allies. Having that supportive environment is great, but it’s a personal challenge for all LGBT people in (the sector),” she said.

When she came out, the City was a different place, she added. “There were very few visible trans roles models, but because I’m an activist in the trans community, I’d often have people telling me what more I should be doing for others. I want to hold a mirror up to these people. What’s stopping you from being a role model?”

It’s rare to see male trans role models across sectors, but particularly so in financial services. Bird speculates this is symptomatic of our male-led culture.

“We still exist within a male-dominated society. When you transition from female to male, all of a sudden you have male privilege. All of a sudden, trans men don’t want to out themselves. Standing up as a trans man is actually more difficult, and I absolutely applaud any trans male that stands out there in an executive role.”

Should boards set LGBT targets?

Organisations need to put practical things in place to support trans people before the issue of targets can be addressed, according to RBS’s global head of inclusion, Marjorie Strachan. “Practical changes need to be made by banks, and many may not realise that,” she added.

“It’s about changing binary thinking at the grassroots level. It’s about thinking, what’s the process for customers who are trans? It’s things that we take for granted, but organisations have some accountability to do that. If we’re sincere about being good employers and all about customer service, we need to roll up sleeves and do it.”

Getting all the right language in place and having all the structures and options out there will take time. For Barclays’ Mark Buckle, it’s about giving everyone within the organisation a voice, and options. “People should have the opportunity to disclose if they wish. We can meet people at their point of need.”

But does senior management care enough to implement targets? Is that the right strategy for LGBT employees?

“People don’t usually care about diversity and inclusion,” Suki Sandhu, founder and CEO of OUTstanding said. “They think it’s something fluffy, and nice-to-have, but they respond to hard data. So show them that!”

“Data is really powerful to drive change. What gets measured get done. But there’s no tangible data on LGBT executives in the boardroom.”

For Swinton’s Richard Beaven, targets need to be approached with kid gloves. “I get quite uncomfortable about targets. I see some appalling behaviours around targets,” he explained.

“In financial services, we work with numbers by default, but we can’t reduce people to just numbers. Targets need to be used extremely carefully and wisely.”

“If half your board is male, and half female, that doesn’t automatically mean that the board is diverse in thought. More than targets, I think diversity in thought needs to be addressed,” Beaven added. “If we all think exactly the same way, where’s the diversity?”

Understanding the language

For Lloyds Banking Group’s Kimberley Bird, there’s also an issue with labels and definitions that HR teams tend to use. “We do a colleague engagement survey twice a year, and there’s also HR data on the online system. One is completely anonymous and looks at this at a holistic level, and the other is about me as an individual. I don’t mind being part of a big data pool, but I don’t want organisations or governments to hold on to my information,” she explained.

Her issue with this is that while data reveals if processes and strategies are working, most trans people may not want to share this data publicly on an individual basis.

“Most women like me wouldn’t say they’re trans, they’ve already transitioned.”

RBS uses a different yardstick to understand the challenges in the LGBT community. “A few years ago we asked our colleagues if their gender identity matches their sex at work. 1 per cent of our workforce say that it doesn’t. This is not the same as asking if they’re trans. It’s a better way of capturing that information,” RBS’s Marjorie Strachan said.

It goes back to asking why you want this data in the first place, she added. “Is it just to score points on an index, or is it about fixing problems your people tell you is important to them?”

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