Mike Dunleavy, Central (3)

The case for creating an inclusive workplace carries a plethora of benefits, not just for employees, but for the entire business. Here, LGBT+ Inclusion Consultant, Jack Williams, talks about some of those benefits, and the steps business leaders can take to create inclusive workplaces.

Inclusion means everyone in a workplace is safe and comfortable being themselves, without fear of discrimination. It promotes individual wellbeing, allows for a diversity of ideas and skill sets and enables everyone to be successful.

But it isn’t just individuals who benefit from inclusion.

“Businesses with inclusive practices often financially outperform those without,” explains LGBT+ Inclusion Consultant, Jack Williams.

“There’s an incredibly strong business case for inclusion in the workplace. When people feel comfortable, they are far more productive.”

Jack goes on to explain that research shows a LGBT+ person who is not ‘out’ in the workplace will be, on average, 33% less productive. This is due to the energy spent of that person watching what they say, using language like ‘partner’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ and ultimately changing their behaviour entirely.

“Not only does it impact a person’s productivity, but also confidence and willingness to share ideas,” says Jack, who has been supporting businesses such as Deloitte, Legal and General and Bernardos, to create more inclusive cultures for more than six years.

“Being recognised as an inclusive employer will also diversify the types of people who want to work for and with you, opening your company up to a much greater talent pool.”

Public perception 

On top of the wealth of internal benefits diversity and inclusion bring to a business, there are also external advantages.

Public consciousness around inclusion is constantly growing. Social justice movements around things like racial injustice, climate justice and the income gap, are drastically shifting consumer habits.

“People are less and less comfortable giving their money to a company if they can’t see that organisation doing good,” explains Jack, who is part of the leadership at LGBT Great, a global membership organisation that specialises in developing LGBT+ diversity and inclusion within the investment and savings industry.

But what does ‘doing good’ look like?

Countless brands in the past have been criticised for tokenistic gestures around inclusion and diversity. But, as Jack explains, there is power in recognising mistakes.

“No company is getting things right 100% of the time,” Jack says. “Say a company has released a t-shirt with the rainbow flag for Pride Month, but it turns out they are taking all of the profits from them. They’ll be criticised for that. But if they hold up their hands and say ‘we were wrong, we accept responsibility’ and change what they were doing, they show willingness to learn and evolve.”

Utilising the data

Jack believes a lot of businesses are missing out on the opportunity to showcase themselves as inclusive employers.

“Many companies don’t have enough data on what their employees look like,” he says. “Most have data on age and gender, but only male or female, which excludes those who identify as non binary.

“Shouting about doubling the number of women in your workplace also doesn’t mean a lot if there is only one woman to begin with”.

While data can be used to evidence the good a business is doing, it can also be used to gain a better understanding of what is happening within your workplace.

The inclusion consultant explains: “A lot of companies carry out employee engagement surveys to gauge how staff are doing. But if you aren’t collecting identity specific data, you could be missing some big red flags.

“Your employee survey could show 90% of staff are happy in the workplace. But if only 5% of black staff are happy, there is something going on that needs to be addressed.”

Identifying trends in this way is important, as reports show as few as 30% of incidents of abuse in the workplace are reported.

It’s also important to share the lived experiences of people in your business. A statement from the CEO about LGBT+ inclusion is great, but the story of someone from that community will be profoundly more impactful, Jack maintains.

The first steps

So, what can employers and business leaders do now to create more inclusive workplaces?

Jack says the first step is to find your reason for doing it.

“Rather than being pressured into building an inclusive workplace, because it’s the right thing to do, take some time to find your reason to care,” he recommends.  

“For some, the key reason is the business case, for others it’s a desire to create a better world or support a specific community.”

Next, it’s a case of clear communications  from the top down.

“Define your messaging and make sure the leaders in your business are visibly on board. This will have a trickledown effect and hopefully encourage people to engage.”

Companies can also appoint teams to start working on policies and building employee engagement.

Most companies have anti-discrimination policies, but as Jack explains, these are usually too broad to be useful.

“Experiencing racism in the workplace will manifest in a different way to homophobia, they might require different types of support. Listen to individuals' lived experiences to inform the procedure you put in place.”  

The most crucial aspect of building an inclusive workplace is through education.

“Establish employee networks and have a senior sponsor, preferably someone not from that specific community who can become an ally," Jack advises.

“Take it upon yourself to learn about the experiences of different communities.

“That doesn’t mean reading every book or article available online as that could be overwhelming. Rather, simply start engaging with things that reflect LGBT+ stories.”

For example, Jack alludes to the hugely successful Channel 4 drama ‘It’s a Sin’, and the influence it has had on highlighting stories that may have otherwise remained unknown to some.

A culture of acceptance 

Creating an environment where staff feel safe to make mistakes can also act as a powerful tool to building a more inclusive workplace.

Jack says: “Staff should be comfortable approaching someone privately and letting them know something they said caused offence. Most of the time people don’t even realise what they said was inappropriate. Instead of ‘calling out’, I refer to it as ‘calling in’.

“Likewise, someone receiving that feedback should feel at ease asking what they should do to better themselves and their actions.”

Working to build inclusive workplaces will require uncomfortable conversations and mistakes will likely be made. But by engaging with communities and accepting accountability, employers have the opportunity to elevate their business and everyone within it.

Key Takeaways...

  • Workplace inclusion means everybody within a business feels safe and supported being themselves
  • Businesses with inclusive workplaces financially outperform those without
  • There are practical steps employers and business leaders can take to promote diversity and inclusion – for information you can find Jack Williams on LinkedIn
  • Create a culture where mistakes are accepted, so long as they are used as a platform for education
  • Find more help and advice on all aspects of running a business on the UMi platform: https://www.weareumi.co.uk/webapp/
Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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