Why we need to create a strong community of LGBT professionals

2016-08-19
The LGBT community has gained more and more rights and attained a level of equality never seen until today across many parts of the world. The recent, traumatic shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, however, is a reminder that the fight for LGBT rights must continue. When people stop talking about homophobia, the issue starts to grow again. That is why Pride is so important and should be maintained at all costs. But Pride only occurs once a year. It is insufficient, by itself, to promote equality for all. So the LGBT community must band together through associations and professional networks. Creating a strong professional LGBT community promotes equality and encourages companies across the globe to become more diverse and support their LGBT employees. Helping the LGBT community through employment opportunities Some major global companies have founded Open For Business. The coalition of leading global business "share a deep-rooted commitment to diversity and inclusion in their own workplaces, and are concerned about the growth of anti-LGB&T policies in many countries in which they operate". Open For Business works to raise awareness about the situation of LGBT people in regions where the participating companies operate, such as Africa and the Middle East. Raising awareness is important, but the benefit of the participating companies to local LGBT individuals remains unclear. It is not in these companies’ commercial interests to promote equality directly in some local spaces. Thus, they communicate their messages globally. Global messages, however, are less likely to be heard by local LGBT communities that suffer under repressive political laws. There is a simple way for companies to reach out and support local LGBT communities: they could hire more LGBT employees and let them know they are welcome and can be themselves in the workplace. Companies can use websites such as myGwork to showcase their LGBT friendliness and recruit talent from around the world. Major professional services firms, such as EY, Thomson Reuters, Reed Smith or OUTstanding and many others have already proved their LGBT friendliness by recruiting from a wide pool of candidates that includes the LGBT community. Geraint Lloyd-Taylor from Lewis Silkin says "it's great to have a specific portal for people who are looking for jobs in an LGBT-friendly organisation". Amir Kabel, Head of Diversity at Green Park - a global recruitment firm- has just been appointed as non-executive Director at myGwork. Speaking of his new role, Kabel said, "MyGwork is a great company with a real appetite to get more LGBT professionals into businesses without compromising their authenticity. I am thrilled to be selected on the board with equally talented board members who are passionate about the same agenda and be part of this exciting journey". Forcing companies to become more diverse  Creating a community of LGBT professionals will cause companies to implement diversity policies that promote equality. It's crucial for these organisations to create LGBT networks. For example, Belton Fournoy, associate director at Protiviti, understood the importance of these networks, and created one. Despite Fournoy being the only member of the network, he believes it is important for his company to be supportive of his difference. He wanted to show his colleagues it was acceptable to be LGBT at Protiviti. He says, ‘I have been asked by people, if we even needed to create an LGBT network in the London Protiviti office, especially one full of so many supportive colleagues. My response is yes, and it is because when I moved to the UK six years ago, I understandably wanted to make a good impression…so ended up going back into the closet. We launched the ProPride UK network to ensure that anyone who joined the London office saw how visibly and openly Protiviti supports their LGBT staff. Similarly, professional organisations such as InterLaw, InterMedia, InterTech, InterBank and InterEnergy, to cite a few, have helped to foster changes within companies and connect LGBT individuals who may feel lonely in their workplaces. Studies have demonstrated that ‘LGBT-supportive policies and workplace climates are linked to greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, increased job satisfaction, and improved health outcomes among LGBT employees. Furthermore, LGBT-supportive policies and workplace climates are also linked to less discrimination against LGBT employees and more openness about being LGBT. Less discrimination and more openness, in turn, are also linked to greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, increased job satisfaction, improved health outcomes, and increased productivity among LGBT employees’. From the pink pound to pink employment  Corporations have understood that LGBT customers are becoming more aware of and sensitive to company messages. For example, Clare Beveridge notes, "estimated to be worth £6 billion per year in the UK, the pink pound’s purchasing power is viewed as a substantial asset to the UK economy". Likewise, Jeremy Lybarger explains that "according to Business Insider, LGBT spending power is estimated at more than $800 billion annually—a still largely untapped demographic that companies are keen to start tapping". He further explains that a 2009 report from the Council for Global Equality found that "24% of LGBT adults switched products or service providers in a 12-month period in favor of companies that support the LGBT community". Supporting equality is important, but consumers must ask whether companies really support their LGBT employees internally. In looking at the media industry, Beveridge argues, "Fair representation of the LGBT community in the media is needed. However, targeting a product toward a group that is looking for acceptance highlights the exploitative nature of 'gay-friendly' marketing campaigns". She adds that "the problem isn’t just private companies jumping on the equality bandwagon, which, in itself, can still pay dividends. The problem is when those same companies endorse equality without ensuring their own HR policies are inclusive". Lybarger explains, ‘When companies enforce LGBT-inclusive policies, they acquire and retain talent, foster a more collaborative workplace, and curry the favor of socially conscious consumers’. The LGBT community can only attain reach equality worldwide if they urge their employers to show support not only externally via LGBT marketing but also through improved internal diversity and inclusion policies. Aritha Wickramasinghe is human rights activist from London. Follow him on Twitter @aritha