Is LGBTQ+ the 'blind spot' in your D&I early talent strategy?

Is LGBTQ+ the 'blind spot' in your D&I early talent strategy?

I’ve noticed an inherent issue when it comes to the diversity and inclusion strategies used by the majority of employers in the early talent space. Priorities. Priorities that, in my opinion, could be seen to exclude rather than include. Priorities which are often defended because they can be measured. Easy to measure because they are visible. Something which everyone can see. Because it’s hard to measure things that you can’t see, unless they are declared. And if they aren’t declared then how could they ever be seen as a priority?

I’m coming out, I (don’t) want the world to know

Research by Stonewall has found that 60% of graduates go ‘back into the closet’ when they start their first job, and that 26% of employees overall who identify as being LGBTQ+ don’t feel that they can be open about their sexuality in the workplace. I can relate. After the painful experience of coming out to my friends and family, I then started my career back in 2006 as a secondary school teacher. Two years spent living what felt like a double life. Mr Keith by day, Steve (the homosexual) by night. Combine these findings, for example, with a recent article by Cosmopolitan magazine where 23% of 18-24 women stated that they are not attracted to just one sex, and the increasing of those announcing their sexual fluidity, and I can start to see how the generation behind mine already sees diversity very differently, and expects this to be accepted in the workplace. Add that to the findings of Mercer’s ‘Working with Pride’ report shared today where 74% of LGBTQ+ people say they have experienced mental health problems at work, and there is clearly still a lot of work to do.

However, ever since I read the 2018 Annual Student Recruitment Survey (published by the Institute of Student Employers last autumn), something has been bugging me, and it’s this. When asked how far they were prioritising issues of diversity in recruitment, 53% of the 134 employers who responded stated that when it came to LGBTQ+ that it was either a ‘low priority’ or ‘not a priority’ at all.

Taken from the ‘2018 Annual Student Recruitment Survey’ published by the Institute of Student Employers

Taken from the ‘2018 Annual Student Recruitment Survey’ published by the Institute of Student Employers

Maybe I’m taking this far too personally as someone who identifies as being part of the LGBTQ+ community and actively celebrates, and is proud of being gay, but without beating around the bush I find this to be unacceptable. If something is not a priority then why choose to include it within a strategy?

Dancing on (my) own

Call me a drama queen if you like but I do understand that when it comes to diversity and inclusion, targets give us something to aim for, but they also ultimately focus our attention somewhere which creates blind spots elsewhere. In this case, diversity characteristics that aren’t noticed, because they haven’t been declared. Because a box hasn’t been ticked somewhere, for whatever (acceptable) personal reason. I can see the challenges that might be made here; after all when you cross-check this statistic with another showing that the average proportion of hires who have declared that they are LGBTQ+ is 6%, set against an average in the population of 2%, it might seem to be less of a priority when other characteristics listed (gender, social mobility, and disability) are under represented, but ethnicity is over-represented yet there are conversations around publishing an ethnic pay gap… Granted this covers all employees, not just students, but as far as the LGBTQ+ community has come, there is still a long way to go before our community is accepted, and more people feel that they belong at the party and can hit the dance floor.

Somewhere where we belong

It’s time for more employers to dedicate more resource, more budget and more thought into how far their D&I strategies really promote equality, because building a workplace where people can be themselves is the right thing to do. When we are truly ourselves, we perform better, we are more effective and more creative. This week the most iconic person of the 20th century was named. Alan Turing. A man who did so much for this country, yet whom, at the time society rejected because of his sexuality. As a result we became blind to his achievements and focused on what didn’t matter. Imagine what he could have achieved if he felt he truly belonged. Instead, we prioritised by passing judgement, which in many ways the majority are still doing today by choosing to pay attention towards what a minority insist to be a priority at the risk of alienating others…and that’s not how being inclusive works. Perhaps we need to change the terminology - focus, rather than priority would perhaps be a better word to use? But then I’ve seen how little resource, budget and consideration LGBTQ+ gets when pitted against other characteristics. Being concerned with who you recruit and how it relates to a wider population is surely indicative of being keen to develop strategies which address those concerns of the very D&I groups included with a strategy?

Well this is my concern, and probably that of many within the LGBTQ+ once this has been highlighted to them. There needs to be a greater focus, and support provided by employers, to tackle the challenges that the LGBTQ+ community face both in schools and on campus. Otherwise those brave enough to come out of the closet in the first place are going to continue to retreat as soon as they enter the workplace, just like I did, until the coast is clear, and that’s no way for somebody to live their life.

Photo by Elyssa Fahndrich on Unsplash


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