LGBT workplace equality – Realising the importance and value of diversity & inclusiveness in business

Guest blog: Catherine Vaughan, Director, EY

In Ireland and across the world; customers, suppliers and other business partners no longer make choices simply based on price. In recent years, shared values have become increasingly important when choosing who you do business with.  Whether you can identify and connect with the people and organisations you are working with is more than ever becoming a determining factor.  When a strong connection exists, real trust can be built, and in turn relationships develop naturally.

This is particularly true when choosing an employer. Just as customers, suppliers and business partners now make choices based on shared values, so do employees.

Multiracial Group of Friends with Hands in Stack, Teamwork

Undeniably, salary will always be a factor when deciding where to work, but more and more people are making choices based on softer factors including values, experience, development potential and opportunities. Opportunities and experiences are what inspire commitment to an organisation, and it is commitment that leads to innovation, productivity, growth and success – for the individual and for the organisation.

When considering how to attract and recruit the best talent, including graduates, organisations need to be clear about the opportunities and experiences on offer and the environment in which those experiences will be gained.  To win in the attraction space, an organisation needs to clearly articulate the vision of an employee experience.  For an organisation to win in the recruitment and retention space it needs to bring the vision to life.

Not so long ago, LGBT employees might not have expected to have the same experience as their straight colleagues and expectations of shared values and experience might have been lower.  At the very least, LGBT employees probably did not have the confidence to speak up and voice their expectations.

Times have changed however and the expectations and voices these days are pushing organisations to deliver on the vision, not only for LGBT employees but across the diversity spectrum – gender, age, culture, physical ability.

For organisations to be truly successful in achieving its vision for a positive employee experience, opportunities must be accessible to everyone. LGBT employees must be afforded the same respect, voice and experience as all of their peers. The perceived ability to speak up and share one’s ideas, to feel like part of the team, is critical to collaboration, an essential component to developing the products and solutions customers demand.

In Ireland there has been significant change in the understanding of employers about the importance of LGBT workplace equality, but there is always room for improvement. Change comes from both a top down and a bottom-up approach. Changing organisational culture requires buy-in from management, and leading by example is crucial. Similarly, engaging younger professionals, as well as staff across a range of different disciplines helps to ensure all corners of the business are addressed.

To really achieve diversity and act inclusively it is not enough to simply put ideals on a page, be that in a values statement, code of conduct or policy. What really makes the difference are the spoken words and actions of the people at the heart of the organisation itself.  After all, even in this highly automated, digital age, it is people who create organisational culture, define behavioural norms and in the end, who make the decisions.

At EY many actions and initiatives have been taken to realise the commitment to LGBT equality, below are some tips organisations might consider:

  • Engage with and train leadership – Regular meetings between LGBT staff and senior leadership help develop understanding of the LGBT workplace experience. Providing inclusive leadership training can be an invaluable way of raising the bar.
  • Find out how you measure up – gather independent feedback to understand how you are performing, to reflect on achievements and identify areas to focus on in the future. Initiatives such as the Workplace Equality Index are a great place to start.
  • Establish an employee network – since 2008 EY has had an employee network group. The group is led by a committee representing every part of the business and participation on the committee is recognised in annual plans and performance appraisals.  Committees give people experiences outside of their normal day-to-day role fast-tracking their development and success.
  • Take learnings from others – network with other employee network groups and sponsoring organisations to understand and learn from their best practices.
  • Support and sponsor the LGBT community – keep connected to what’s happening in the LGBT community to help understand your staff and to deliver your message on the value you place on workplace equality, diversity and inclusion.

Looking back at my own experience of entering professional services as a graduate, I am amazed at the change.  Had I been asked in 1995 to complete a survey I would have ticked the box “Out only to a few at work”; I certainly wouldn’t have ticked the box “Out to all at work” – the box I tick these days.  I am immensely proud to be part of an organisation that recognises my talent before my sexuality but which, at the same time, values my difference.

At a time when more graduates are choosing to stay in Ireland on completing their degrees, being able to offer them something other than salary to connect with can be the differentiator you need to attract and retain the best talent.

Catherine Vaughan, Director, EY

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