Many businesses have recognised the need to foster a work culture that champions diversity and inclusion.
Some businesses have gone even further, taking positive steps forward to really embrace the individuality of their people, such as Virgin Airlines.
In a widely publicised move, last year Virgin Airlines updated their gender identity and trans inclusion policies, removed the requirement for employees to wear gendered uniforms and make-up, and cover up tattoos, introduced mandatory inclusivity training for all staff, updated ticketing systems to allow for gender-neutral titles to be made on bookings, and rolled out optional pronoun badges for staff and anyone travelling with the airline. Other businesses including NatWest, Marks & Spencer, and Greggs followed suit.
Research commissioned by Virgin Airlines found that employees being free to express their true selves at work boosts happiness (65%), increases mental wellbeing (49%), creates a more positive workplace culture (36%) – and provides a better experience for customers (24%).
Employees reported feeling more accepted and comfortable (26%) and had an increased sense of loyalty to their employer (21%).
So, it may be surprising to hear that a quarter of LGBTQ+ young adults say they went “back into the closet” when they started work. And 14% said they rarely or never felt able to be themselves at work.
Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, says “Despite positive and welcome changes being made in recent years, inclusive practices are not yet as common as they should be. There are still companies that need to do more when it comes to proactively implementing strategies to support their workforce.
“The figures speak for themselves. Celebrating and supporting diversity and inclusion within an organisation brings many benefits, not only to the individual employees but also to the organisation itself. And Virgin Airlines have clearly seen this, with job applications doubling since bringing in these changes. This is a metric not to be ignored as more than three-quarters of UK businesses face record high challenges with recruitment.
“At a time when job seekers are placing more priority on employee wellbeing, positive company culture and inclusivity, businesses simply cannot afford to neglect the wants and needs of their workforce.
“However, with 25% of LGBTQ+ young adults feeling unable to disclose their sexuality at work, it’s clear that more work needs to be done to break down barriers.
“The best place to start is with your policies. You may wish to introduce specific policies, such as a trans support policy outlining the support available to employees who are transitioning, including time off for medical appointments, how name changes can be managed, etc. Or revisit existing policies like your family-related leave policies to remove gendered language and outline the support available for LBGTQ+ staff.
“All policies should be complemented by a zero-tolerance stance against any bullying or harassing, robust procedures, and effective diversity and unconscious bias training for all line managers.
“Organisations can further enhance their company culture by creating an environment of openness and inclusivity through celebrating LGBTQ+ events, such as Pride Week, and partnering with local LGBTQ+ charities.
“Introducing internal support groups and signposting to your employee assistance programme (EAP) or external support will also help your staff feel advocated for. Championing individuals does not have to mean expense for an employer. Instead, it requires sensitivity on the part of those involved in the initiatives, and collaboration amongst employees to ensure all groups are appropriately represented.
“One salient issue that remains is that there are currently no openly LGBTQ+ CEOs in the FTSE 100, and only four within the Fortune 500. This highlights the lack of LGBTQ+ representation at senior level.
“It’s a very real likelihood that many LGBTQ+ employees choose not to be their true selves at work, because they don’t see any representation in leadership roles.
“It’s concerning that LGBTQ+ people are not adequately represented in senior levels at work, and it begs the question of whether enough opportunities are afforded to this community.
“It’s crucial that a business has visible role models, creating an inclusive workplace where employees feel comfortable being their authentic selves. That’s where non-biased recruitment and promotion strategies come into play.
“Studies show that inclusive workplaces are 35% more likely to exceed median earnings in their industry and have higher levels of team innovation, performance, and engagement. In addition, there is the LGBTQ+ pay gap, with affected staff paid on average 16% less than heterosexual colleagues.
“Whilst LGBTQ+ pay gap reporting is not a legal requirement, it may be a good idea to do this voluntarily to reduce the gap and promote equality and take positive steps to address any identified gaps.
“Ultimately, this will enhance the working environment and provide a well-rounded staff force which businesses can leverage to optimise success.
“It is of course Pride Month, but employers must keep in mind that their duty of care requirements continue long after June comes to an end, and ensure they have long-term measures in place. The importance of creating a culture of true diversity, equality and inclusion cannot be understated, particularly in the modern working world where more people than ever are, quite rightly, calling out inappropriate actions and behaviours.”