Today’s human resource leaders work in complex and challenging workplaces, striving to deliver workforce solutions that are real-time, transparent and inclusive.
Amongst an organisation’s stakeholders, the executive team have the greatest influence over inclusion. They set the culture, shape the values and provide vision. When influencing this group, it is important though to refrain from being an activist. Beating a rainbow path to the CEO’s door won’t cut it if what you’re trying to achieve is a sustainable culture of inclusion for staff who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
The secret is incrementally adjusting perceptions: it’s about building trust and respect rather than lobbying.
You have to think strategically, tactfully, tactically and sometimes surgically. You must raise awareness of the value-add of inclusion and how it can be consciously directed toward achieving business outcomes.
How do you do this? Take a moment to consider your executive team. Each one of them has a different bottom-line. In order to win over the group, you have to target the individuals: their motivators, their emotional connection. In many ways, you need to think “diversity”.
As you start to engage these stakeholders, it’s likely that you’ll be faced with rejection and denial: we’ve tried this before… but we have a “gay” in accounts and he doesn’t complain… we have already met our quota…
There are seven persuasive business arguments for inclusion that aim to influence executive stakeholders so that they see the importance of a diverse and inclusive culture. The trick is to engage them to ensure that they don’t see diversity as a distraction – but rather as an opportunity for competitive advantage.
1. What customers will think
Consumers are now attentive to the track record of businesses – not the financial record. They are focused on the environmental impact, the diversity record, the level of social responsibility, such as the organisation’s integrity and values. Research by Harris Interactive found that three quarters of gay and close to a half (42%) of straight consumers in the US are less likely to buy products from companies perceived to hold negative views of lesbians and gay men (Stonewall, 2008).
2. What others are doing
Australian companies and public sector agencies are now developing robust diversity policies; policies that are inclusive of LGBT staff. These organisations recognise the economic benefits not only in attracting customers but also in enhancing productivity and retaining staff.
Pride In Diversity’s Australian Workplace Equality Index ranks Australian businesses and government agencies against a rigorous criteria. In 2011 IBM and the Australian Federal Police were ranked top Australian employers for inclusion.
3. The risk
Some will see inclusion as a compromise of beliefs that will affront staff and customers alike, yet this is not what inclusion is about. Inclusion is not about changing people’s values, nor confronting religious beliefs. Fundamentally inclusion is about valuing and celebrating difference.
At its heart, inclusion aims to create a safe workplace that is built on trust and is free from discrimination. The Pink Ceiling is Too Low report (Irwin, 2002) showed that 59% of LGTB employees feel discriminated in the workplace: the major form of discrimination being harassment, including homophobic jokes, aggressive questions and even physical violence. Some 19% reported a restrictive career as a result of their sexuality.
4. The opportunities
Some executives are motivated by opportunities like being the biggest, the best, the first. They are motivated by opportunities that make the organisation look good; of course they are motivated by opportunities that make them look and feel good as individuals too.
Strong leaders can see the value of diversity. They are able to leverage diversity to tap into innovation and deliver results. IBM argues: “brilliance isn’t born of conformity”.
Inclusive policies build an environment of trust. When people are trusted, they are more likely to create and innovate. A workforce is more likely to challenge itself if there is an absence of fear such as the fear of making mistakes.
5. The impact on staff
Inclusion provides a litmus test for engagement. Inclusive cultures implicitly engage staff. In a culture where there are secrets and a lack of trust, there is lower productivity. Too much energy is wasted on protecting one’s identity. It is estimated that between 6-10% of people identify with being LGTB: that’s a lot of energy potentially wasted.
Inclusive strategies have a positive ripple affect across the entire workforce and impact on all workers whether they identify with a specific diversity group or not. The annual global Gallup engagement survey shows that around 80% of Australian employees are not fully engaged in the workplace, costing business around $42B per year in lost productivity. Engaged employees deliver 27% higher profits; 50% higher sales; and generate 50% higher customer loyalty.
6. The cost
Every HR practitioner knows that disengaged employees are more likely to change organisations. It is estimated that 21% staff are actively looking for work at any one time. With social media’s success in facilitating recruitment, staff no longer need to search for work – it comes to them.
We know the dire state of the Australian employment market. We’re at the cross-over where the numbers exiting the workforce are beginning to exceed new entrants. The costs of replacing a productive staff member can sit as high as 150% of an annual salary.
Inclusion programs not only engage a workforce, but they appeal to a new generation of workers. They underscore an employment value proposition and can contribute to becoming an employer of choice.
7. The right thing to do
Most executive teams have at least one member who is motivated by the impact that inclusion can have on the lives of individuals. For people like this, inclusion policies can represent an endorsement of personal values, respect and a belief in equality.
In summary, tackle your stakeholders from a range of angles: customers, competition, opportunity, innovation, staff, productivity and the fact that it’s the right thing to do.
Stephen Walker is a Principal at Workforce Strategies and the former National Manager for Human Resources at the Australian Federal Police.