Mona Akiki, Chief People Officer at Perkbox, says smart organisations are LGBT+ inclusive all year round and not just during the annual LGBT+ celebration of Pride Month.
Smart organisations are LGBT+ inclusive all year round
Employee mental health and wellbeing have never been more tested than over the last 14 months under the constraints of lockdown.
Whilst research of over 13,000 UK employees and business leaders we conducted last year showed how some of the hardest hit were workers aged 18-24 battling financial despair and loneliness; it was also clear from other research that other groups in society were affected too, including the LGBT+ community.
While LGBT+ celebrations such as London’s Pride parade have once again fallen silent a second year running, it is up to everyone, including organisations, to fill the void with meaningful reflection and, ultimately, action to ensure that they become proudly representative of modern society.
Just as consumers feel more inclined to shop with businesses that align with their own personal values, the same goes for the kinds of companies in which people desire to work.
How inclusive an employer is will be a vital element for how successful they are at engaging, attracting, and retaining talent now and in the post-pandemic world.
It is, of course, not the responsibility of marginalised groups to spearhead policies and best practices within their organisations; although their counsel and insights would ensure relevant, empathetic, and effective policy changes are developed, the effort must come from all.
What Perkbox is doing on LGBT+ inclusion
As a culturally inclusive company with employees from all backgrounds, ages, and walks of life, we have tried our best to evolve and lead by example – and much of our initiatives and policies have been shaped by employee insights.
Diversity and inclusion remain a huge part of our culture as we grow into a global scale-up. That said, our objective to become a genuinely inclusive employer that is not just LGBT+ friendly but actively open to any marginalised group will always be a work in progress.
We continue to be mindful of the power of language and how this can both work for and against creating an inclusive culture. There are always checks and balances to ensure that the wording we use in our policies builds and encourages inclusivity.
For example, an expectant parent should be able to read a parental leave policy and understand the support they will get as a primary or secondary caregiver no matter the type of family they are building.
Meanwhile, conversations, not least around issues relating to D&I and the LGBT+ community, have become so tribalistic that it’s endangering meaningful, transformative discussions. What is important is that people – in and outside organisations – are able to engage in what sometimes feels like awkward conversations relating to diversity and inclusion. It’s from this very place of discomfort and risk where real social progress starts.
At Perkbox, we use Culture Hub, which forms an intrinsic part of our employee engagement digital platform, to encourage all our employees to share their life experiences and allow others into their world. Through these stories, employees are invited to talk about themselves and how they got to where they are today.
Democratising voices is an important part of creating an inclusive work culture; this space isn’t exclusive to marginalised groups, although it has been a great platform for BAME, LGBT+, and others to share these personal stories with colleagues.
This process of sharing perspectives creates as well as reinforces cultural bonds within the company. In addition to this, we also have an LGBT+ Slack channel, which provides a safe place to discuss related topics or ask for advice.
Allowing for LGBT+ staff to ‘show up’ authentically
A work culture where people can be their authentic selves should be a given. But many LGBT+ employees still feel compelled to hide their sexuality and, in turn, suppress an integral part of their identity for fear that it will set their careers back. This has profound implications on employee engagement and mental wellbeing.
Deloitte’s renowned study on the act of ‘covering’, where minority groups underplay their appearance, values, or behaviour in order to conform to accepted corporate norms, showed that those who ‘cover’ are considerably more negative about their workplace than those who don’t. The choice of being what is expected rather than what is authentic is ultimately corrosive to the soul.
“Being in an LGBT+ friendly workplace is incredibly freeing,” Emma Self, our social media manager, said in a company post. “Simple things like just going about my day knowing that there isn’t a part of me that I’m hiding is a massive weight off my shoulders. This is the first workplace where I have been completely ‘out’. I was accepted straight away, and it was done in a way that felt like it was important but also ‘not a big deal.’”
She added: “Being in an LGBT+ unfriendly workplace is restrictive and demoralising. To just be yourself at work is something that a lot of people take for granted. In the last office I worked in, a couple of colleagues and I were closeted. Thankfully, we were able to be open to each other. It felt amazing to have someone to discuss personal issues with – someone who understood me. But it was demoralising not being able to be our true selves amongst our colleagues. My mental health, and subsequently my work, suffered because of my internal conflicts.”
What other employers should do
There’s truth in that “you can’t be what you can’t see”. Companies need more socially representative role models in senior positions.
Furthermore, there must be allies and advocates in place within organisations to ensure that marginalised candidates are able to develop skills and negotiate invisible barriers that might hamper diversity at every level.
Creating safe spaces for honest discussion is a must. Invite external speakers and authors to speak on relevant themes relating to diversity and inclusion.
Use internal communication platforms for publishing the diverse life stories of your individual employees – encourage a practice of shared wisdom to tackle ignorance, strengthen culture and nurture team bonds.
Manage the language – because words matter. It’s true that some people are baffled by the increasing dictionary of un-politically correct pitfalls. Inflammatory use of language, thinly veiled racist rhetoric, the normalisation of slurs endorsed by some public figures have galvanised closet homophobes and racists to be vocal in their intolerance of difference under the guise of free speech.
Microaggressions at work are common but subtle. Just because someone isn’t outright using a homophobic slur or physically attacking someone doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing to anti-LGBT+ hate. Everyone within an organisation has a job to identify and speak up if they are witness or subject to anti-LGBT+ hate. Be the best ally you can be and challenge this kind of behaviour whenever you see it.
Finally, we must tackle impediments to diversity and inclusion at the recruitment stage by actively challenging hiring decisions and selection processes. Ensure that you have a diverse group of people taking part in the process, especially as interviewers.
Prior to approving any hire, ask yourself this question: what was done to ensure that a diverse range of candidates were put forward for consideration? Could there be a wider reason why not enough people from diverse backgrounds are applying for jobs at your company, and what can be done about this?
And of course, be mindful of the language used in job adverts and job descriptions to ensure that you’re not discouraging great candidates from applying.
Pride celebrations this year might’ve been postponed, but smart organisations ensure that they are LGBT+ inclusive all-year-round and regularly check in with their teams and always take time to consider how they can do better.
Mona Akiki is Chief People Officer at employee experience platform Perkbox.