Organisations of all shapes and sizes are championing LGBTI diversity.
PricewaterhouseCoopers’ tax partner Suzi Russell presents a powerful role model. The mother of a one-year-old daughter, she’s a successful professional. In the workplace, her sexual orientation is no secret. She’s a lesbian, out and proud.
Russell leads the Big Four firm’s GLEE network for “gays, lesbians and everyone else”. The program is now recognised as a trailblazer in the rapidly evolving LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) diversity space.
The success of GLEE led to PwC being named Australia’s leading employer in the recent Workplace Equality Index Awards. for inclusiveness regardless of sexual orientation.
While a key benefit of the network for PwC is in luring talented potential employees and the sense of inclusiveness it creates for existing employees, an unexpected bonus for the firm has been the number of curious client organisations now seeking advice from PwC on LGBTI diversity.
In a similar situation is marketer Steven Preston, LGBTI diversity network lead at IBM Australia. IBM is one of the original corporate pioneers in workplace LGBTI diversity with a long-established international network. Preston started working with the IT behemoth in Boston in 2000. He says a major reason he’s stuck with his employer is the global LGBTI network. Its Australian arm has around 100 members.
While raising the company’s profile with networking events, emphasising its inclusive workplace allure to graduates and winning awards, IBM’s network is also spreading the diversity message into new markets. One of its main offerings is reverse mentoring of executives in “places that don’t have the same policies and legal frameworks as we do in Australia, such as China, India and Singapore,” says Preston.
In the quest to build more diverse organisations, LGBTI initiatives are now powering ahead across all sectors. At Macquarie University, it’s LGBTIQ. The extra letter stands for “queer” or “questioning”, explains Daniel O’Neill, senior equity and diversity officer.
Dawn Hough, the energetic founder of the pioneering Pride In Diversity (PID), a Sydney-based organisation, which launched the awards in 2010, reports a huge upsurge in LGBTI interest. Since PID was founded in 2009, membership has almost quadrupled, leaping from around 10 to more than 40 organisations. Stephen Walker, a diversity consultant who previously helped the Australian Federal Police (AFP) through the formative stages of its LGBTI program, reports stirrings in government at all levels.
The LGBTI initiatives that work best invariably have support at the top level, he observes. Conversely, the best-intentioned LGBTI programs tend to be obliterated when decisions over tackling inclusiveness and gender orientation are left to homogenous committees, he says. Intent on consistently raising the bar, Hough and the PID team established the Australian Workplace Equality Index in 2010, placing clear measures on organisations’ LGBTI inclusiveness, and allowing them to benchmark against themselves and other organisations year on year.
The index, which measures policy, practice, culture, employee involvement and diversity training, has been designed as an instrument for change, Hough says.
Beyond the crucial equality driver – that “everyone has the right to be themselves at work” – there are major business motivators, including the ability to attract and retain employees in a skills-short market, improving productivity, and an overarching enhancing of the brand or corporate reputation. Headway is being made in raising awareness. LGBTI policy-making has become compliance for employers due to recent legislative changes, which have made mandatory family benefits for same-sex partners, notes Hough.
However, training in LGBTI remains a sticking point in many workplaces. The results of PID’s 2011/12 Index scores show many organisations remain nervous about training.
Before joining Macquarie University’s Allies network, members are required to attend a mandatory awareness session, which gives insights into what, Daniel O’Neill calls, “the varying faces of queerdom”. Macquarie’s Allies now number 112.
A softer approach
At Lend Lease, a more softly, softly approach has been adopted with people invited to attend LGBTI training sessions.
Chris Lamb, head of human resources, confirms that the employment brand proposition, with the company advertising its LGBTI diversity, has delivered a noticeably broader range of applications for roles generally and through university LGBTI networks.
Lend Lease employees also use their skills to assist the not-for-profit Twenty10, which supports “young people of diverse genders”, with architectural and building requirements as well as cooking meals for the Newtown, Sydney, centre. “The more support traditionally male industries – engineering and science – can provide in the LGBTI space, the better,” he concludes.
PwC’s Suzi Russell is heartened by the amount of change she’s seen in a relatively short time. “It’s really good to see everyone intent on shifting culture slowly instead of setting up a group and just ticking a box,” she says