The new urgency to address diversity

A recent study in the UK showed that homophobia in the workplace costs the engineering sector £11bn and reduced productivity in LGBTQ staff by 30%.

A recent study in the UK showed that homophobia in the workplace costs the engineering sector £11bn and reduced productivity in LGBTQ staff by 30%. It also found the UK was at risk of not hitting its recruitment target for new engineers if homophobia in the workplace wasn’t addressed.

With news of discrimination happening in local businesses, we must ask ourselves, what are we doing to make sure this doesn’t happen in a professional services firm? What is the business case for LGBTQ+ diversity, and is one needed?

Inclusion for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer) employees is fast becoming a critical area for organisations to address. In a 2012 research paper from Deloitte, research showed that there was an ‘80% improvement in business performance when levels of diversity and inclusion were high.’ (Smedley, Tim) Research is now showing that clients are actively looking for teams which showcase diversity (Chopra, Jyoti), with New Zealand companies, such as Fletcher Building and Simpson Grierson, creating a strategy to recognising its LGBTQ workforce. My prediction is, it’s soon going to become an industry standard.

For New Zealand, Statistics New Zealand is still considering adding sexual orientation as a source of data to be collated. This makes it harder to determine how the numbers from the studies on overseas organisations would affect a company like Beca.

In a recent report, Statistics New Zealand states, “Sexual orientation and behaviour is a topic of emerging interest in New Zealand and internationally. The LGBT communities are acknowledged as a sub-population that is increasing in size as societies become less discriminatory about non-heterosexual relationships.”

With no statistical data available, it creates a greater challenge for companies in New Zealand to be shown a clear reason for a business case specifically for LGBTQ diversity. However, astute business leaders are becoming increasingly aware of the LGBTQ community in their workplaces and are responding to it without waiting for the facts and figures. There’s a real risk of losing competiveness given society’s changing acceptance of equality

While facts, figures and business cases all need to be addressed by a company, the personal need for tackling this work shouldn’t be forgotten. As an openly gay woman, I’ve worked in a variety of workplaces in New Zealand and the UK, where I’ve had to consider the implication of being truly open about who I am.

In the UK, even with the marriage equality bill being passed, it was safer to remain in the closet. Yet when I started my first role at Auckland Transport, in New Zealand, there was never the same sense of apprehension. This has changed dependent on the company I worked for, however, the general positive and inclusive attitude which I experienced was a big aspect that encouraged me to make the move to New Zealand a permanent one.

Beca has a great working environment for its LGBTQ staff and I’ve never felt any apprehension over bringing my whole self to work. This example of experiencing an inclusive workplace can help staff make the decision which organisation, and indeed country, to take their skill set to.

As much as businesses need to appreciate the full spectrum of diversity, inclusion is what will make it thrive.
Inclusion is simply acknowledging someone’s diversity in a positive way and not using it as an excuse to limit the opportunities the employee has.

Inclusion allows for easier communication and most importantly understanding. When colleagues are able to understand the differences of their team mates it allows for a much easier working relationship. Starting these conversations is sometimes the challenge, but this is where we need our leaders to be fearless about creating the change and a safe space where the dialogue can be open and informative.

The research available shows that not only is there a business case for LGBTQ diversity, the economic and personal wellbeing risk to staff only heightens the need. This is something that market leaders are becoming increasingly aware of.

In March 2016, the NZ Herald reported “50 of New Zealand’s top business leaders gathered to help boost the country’s economic performance through the power of diversity” however, the danger is, if our leadership teams limit the conversation on diversity issues, there’s a very real possibility of LGBTQ inclusion being left behind. Kim Jarrett, partner at KMPG says “You can’t innovate if everybody around the table thinks the same way.” (NZ Herald).

Diversity of thought at every stage in the business needs to come from the diversity of people. This needs to be people from all walks of life, no matter what makes them different from you and me.

Reference: UK Study, (Shelbrooke, Alec (MP), McBride-Wright, Mark)

Smedley, Tim ‘The evidence is growing – there really is a business case for diversity’ – The Financial Times

Ignite Your Thinking

What Do You Think?

Sally Stephenson · 15/05/2016 12:22:16 PM
Thanks Grant, Beca is already doing great things for the community, it'll be interesting to see where P&C take the topic and I look forward to hearing the conversations as well.

Sally Stephenson · 15/05/2016 12:20:55 PM
Thanks Vero, I knew of Equal Opportunity act in the UK as every time you apply for a job, you have to fill out a form that asks for all sorts of diversity information, I don't recall seeing this in NZ however, but can't imagine it's too far from what the UK practices.
Still, even with Acts in place, human reaction often dictates situations I've found and sadly I have stories from England that would make HR Managers hair stand on end.

Grant Mckendry · 15/04/2016 3:27:35 PM
Great thought piece Sally and its great you feel confident to pen it. This is an interesting topic and I look forward to more conversation happening to make sure we get the very best out of every person that walks through the Beca doors.

Vero · 14/04/2016 5:07:22 PM
A very well written article Sally! Thanks for sharing. I cannot believe that in our day and age, there is such a debate about differences in sex, culture, colour, race etc... did you know that the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (the most important HR Legal act) is there to protect against that - both in term of not getting a job or being dismiss from one because of disparity? An interesting topic.