Iain Anderson Pride Centre

Given that many LGBT+ workers still feel they have to hide their sexuality and identity at work, there is clearly some way to go before UK businesses can stand up next to their diversity and inclusion initiatives. That is why the government has appointed Iain Anderson as its new LGBT+ Business Champion. Relishing the opportunity to drive change across the private sector, Iain tells UMi how the key to improving workplace equality and tackling discrimination is to bind LGBT+ issues to the wider debate around environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).

More than a third of LGBT+ workers (35%) hide their sexuality at work for fear of discrimination.  

Almost one in five (18%) say they are discriminated against while trying to get a job because of their identity.  

The LGBT+ pay gap is (16%) roughly double the gender pay gap.  

These statistics will no doubt be focusing the mind of the government’s new LGBT+ Business Champion, Iain Anderson.  

Iain is Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of corporate communications specialist, Cicero Group, a Non-Executive Director of Innovate Finance, an Ambassador of Stonewall, a Trustee of GiveOut and a regular contributor to national and international print and broadcast media.  

Not surprisingly, he is recognised as one of the most influential and well-connected people in UK business.  

Those connections will be particularly important as Iain faces up to the task of progressing the cause of LGBT+ equality at work.  

One of his first priorities will be to establish a business network that facilitates knowledge exchange and the sharing of best practice between large corporates and small and medium-sized businesses.  

“There’s a real opportunity to use some of the capacity larger businesses have built in terms of diversity to help smaller businesses go faster,” Iain explains.  

The creation of this new role has been welcomed by LGBT+ and business groups, as both recognise the need for the government to set the tone on issues of equality, diversity and inclusion.  

The real change, though, will be driven by businesses of all shapes and sizes getting on board and making a renewed effort to ensure their LGBT+ colleagues can be themselves at work.  

For Iain, the best way to foster that collective buy-in is to align with the wider conversation taking place in the UK around environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).  

He says: “The LGBT+ in business conversation goes way beyond diversity and inclusion. 

“What this is about for me is ESG, the social part of ESG.” 

A product of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental movements, ESG is about measuring business success by more than just financial performance indicators.  

It’s about measuring how sustainable a business is in terms of its impact on the environment, nature and natural resources, and how it looks after its employees, suppliers, customers and the communities it operates in.  

Tapping into the social themes around things like employee wellbeing, business ethics, community engagement and consumer relations is where Iain believes LGBT+ issues can best be furthered.  

Given the extent to which the market is moving in a sustainable direction – one where a company’s ESG credentials are fast becoming the most important metric for investors, consumers and workers – Iain may well be right.  

That being said, as market forces move towards holding companies more socially accountable, it’s important that ESG is not just treated as another marketing exercise.  

This is particularly relevant in the case of LGBT+ issues, where too often businesses only engage with the community around Pride Month or to generate some good PR.  

Iain says: “For the last four or five years, I’ve had calls from businesses saying, “Oh, it’s Pride Month – what shall we do?” 

“And I just say, “Are you doing something meaningful in your workplace? Are you doing something meaningful with your customers? If you are, then yes get on board that bus and do Pride. But if you’re not, you’re going to be called out here.”  

He continues: “I am just getting into my stride in this new role and while I’m going to celebrate the stuff that’s good, I am determined to call out where I see ‘pinkwashing’.” 

Looking ahead to 2022, Iain is working with Lord Herbert, the government’s new special envoy for LGBT rights, to deliver the UK’s first Global LGBT Conference next summer.  

Launched with the working title ‘Safe To Be Me’, the event will be internationally focussed on driving legislative change in the 70 or so countries where homosexuality is still criminalised today.   

Iain explains: “We’re hoping that, in some of the countries where it is not safe to be me, where it is still illegal to be LGBT+, that we can encourage them to create real change so some of the laws that are still in place, often as a result of Britain’s colonial past, get changed. 

“For me, business can play a really vital part in making that happen.” 

Key takeaways:  

  • Iain Anderson was speaking at the Pride Media Centre in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, which is the UK’s first LGBT+ business and media hub. 
  • One of Iain’s first tasks as the government’s LGBT+ Business Champion is to address the lack of current research around the experience of LGBT+ people at work.  
  • The LGBT+ pay gap is estimated to be double the gender pay gap at 16%. 
  • For further reading, check out our article on Building a workplace where everyone can thrive
Richard Dawson
Article by Richard Dawson
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