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There are still barriers to LGBTIQ inclusion, but HR can help

Despite the vote in favour of gay marriage, many still don’t feel free to be open at work. Three out-and-proud senior leaders talk about what needs to change.

Georgie Harman CEO, beyondblue

To be the best you can be, you need the opportunity to be who you truly are. These feelings are shared by so many in the LGBTI communities. Up to 97 per cent of lesbians and 94 per cent of gay men say being out at work is important to them. In fact, 85 per cent say it is more important than pay and promotion.

One of our most basic human needs is the need for respect. Only when you feel respected at work can you feel great about the organisation you work in. Without respect, there can be no trust, and productivity in the workplace relies on trust.

So inclusion at work is not only a question of human dignity. It is also about economics. The diversity agenda is one of the greatest microeconomic reforms of the 20th and 21st centuries – a massive driver of productivity and participation – and a reform that can keep delivering for generations to come.

An analysis of 600 business decisions made by 200 different business teams in a wide variety of companies over two years recently found that inclusive teams made better business decisions up to 87 per cent of the time. The same research showed how teams that followed an inclusive process made decisions twice as fast – and with half as many meetings. And it found that decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60 per cent better results. How, then, can HR managers unlock this potential?

Fundamental is the creation of an inclusive environment. This means developing a clear organisational commitment to LGTBI inclusion and demonstrating this commitment at a senior level.

Appointing a visible, active ‘senior champion’ who models respectful attitudes could be one place to start. Managers could then take that idea a step further by showcasing a range of role models at all levels of the organisation. These people can help your staff challenge assumptions and share stories – both powerful strategies for bringing about positive change.

The point is, we all have a role to play in building a culture of respect for difference.

Matthew Paine CPHR, Director of Human Resources, ICC, Sydney

Many workplaces are accepting of LGBTI employees, but do not reflect this in policy and practice, which leads to a true barrier to inclusion. Research proves LGBTI people spend a lot of energy self-editing because of the consequences they may face if they bring their true selves to work. These consequences of being ‘out at work’ can include being overlooked when it comes to career progression or a salary increase, to simply being excluded socially or having ideas shut down.

How HR can assist? Firstly, through awareness. Some employees have never been exposed to someone identifying as LGBTI. They may come from a ‘straight’ background and have been influenced in their thinking from education or religious background. HR has a vital role to play in educating the workforce about LGBTI inclusion and the company’s diversity and inclusion practices and programs, all underpinned by training and education across the organisation.

Secondly, attitude – some employees are simply not interested in knowing or asking about LGBTI and other organisational diversity initiatives. This can cause stigma, social judgement, prejudice and stereotypes across an organisation due to irrational fears and lack of sufficient knowledge regarding LGBTI people. Structural facilitators both internal and external can also impact attitude, such as laws, policies and institutions. While gay marriage is legal, there is still a significant proportion of the population who opposed this right. HR has a role to ensure visibility from the top. A high-profile executive sponsor can help. A dedicated intranet page and discussion around words at work, terminology and how it makes people feel, are all great tools to create an inclusive workplace.

HR departments should undertake a policy review to ensure they are using inclusive language and also that each policy contains inclusive rights. Communicate this internally and externally. Make LGBTI people keen to work with your organisation due to your HR and social practices, and reflect this in the employer brand. Establish and sponsor an employee-driven LGBTI network across the organisation to foster a greater sense of belonging, and networking for both those that identify and their allies.

Gemma Saunders, Head of Inclusion & Employee Experience, Medibank

The recent postal vote to legalise same-sex marriage placed a spotlight on the LGBTIQ community, and in turn the workplace. While 62 per cent voted ‘yes’, more than a third ticked ‘no’. These are significant numbers for HR leaders and their employees. For many, it represented a milestone to celebrate; for others the sizeable ‘no’ reinforced rejection and discrimination.

In 2015, with the backing of senior leaders, Medibank employees formed an LGBTIQ network called Passion + Pride to find gaps in workplace policies. Last year, this was extended to providing LGBTIQ-friendly on-site counsellors and phone-based counselling for all employees experiencing difficulties during the marriage equality vote. These services were endorsed and promoted by Medibank CEO Craig Drummond in employee emails during and after the postal vote. Any cultural change must come from the top.

True LGBTIQ inclusion has to be as dynamic as the employees it supports. Medibank strives to be a workplace where all employees feel safe and supported, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender. For example, it could be that parental leave policies don’t explicitly include same-sex couples. We can all take the time to reassess the way we do things.

Barriers to true inclusion can also exist in informal ways.

There are symbols and pictures of Medibank’s pride in diversity around the workplace, and we were one of the first major consumer brands in Australia to integrate positive LGBTIQ messages and imagery into large-scale mass media. In 2016, Medibank signed on as a major sponsor of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and for the past two years we have had an employee and customer float in the parade.

This also helps Medibank attract diverse talent. We know that millennials consider the diversity and corporate social responsibility strategy of an organisation more than previous generations.

As a company, it’s about taking a stand and anchoring your position – doing what is right and fair. I believe it’s the only way to achieve lasting change for current and future employees.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in the June edition of HRM magazine

Pictured from left to right: Georgie Harman, Matthew Paine, and Gemma Saunders

Learn how to identify, manage and reduce unconscious bias in your organisation with the AHRI customised in-house training course ‘Managing unconcious bias’. Book by June 30 to save with AHRI’s EOFY offer.

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Jo Ann
Jo Ann

Anything that isn’t to do with your job shouldn’t be discussed at work anyway. You don’t need to bring up your religion, preference to male or females etc. It is a neutral environment


Hi Jo Ann – yes… Just so long as you never mention your wife or husband, your children, your dog or cat…your life really! Then we can have a completely (unnatural) neutral environment.

Building an inclusive workforce | Recruitment Marketing

[…] through diversity. Increased productivity and efficiency saves valuable time and resources. HRM Online interviews three out-and-proud senior leaders, including CEO of beyondblue Georgie Harman who comments on the […]

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