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Gentoo named ‘gay friendly’ employer of the year

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A business whose services include providing social housing and environmental design has topped a chart of the 100 best ‘gay friendly’ employers.

Charity Stonewall’s annual Top 100 chart of the best employers for lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) staff in Britain placed Gentoo in the top spot.

Nottinghamshire Healthcare HNS Trust took second position with the Co-operative third. The top ten also included Accenture, the Home Office, and Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Service – the first time a fire and rescue operation has entered the first decimal.

Security services also fared positively in the list, with the Ministry of Defence named Most Improved Employer. The Army, making its first appearance, MI5 and Royal Navy all featured in the top 80.

One in ten of the companies listed were from the legal sector.

Talking the talk

Gentoo’s group chief executive Peter Walls said the company was “extremely proud” to be named Employer of the Year. It has around 1,900 members of staff.

“This is not just a badge of honour for us; it is part of who we are and what we do every day,” he said. “We’re all different and if we can’t be ourselves at work and value the differences, how can we be expected to deliver on this serious matter with our customers and partners?”

Walls emphasised that it was the “little things that really make a big difference”, such as offering customers the option to speak to an LGB member of staff.

The North-Eastern company’s equality and diversity coordinator Pam Walton said Gentoo had put robust policies in place to tackle workplace discrimination.

“At Gentoo we have an equality and diversity (E&D) strategy which sets out our approach to E&D, why we believe it is important, and crucially clearly demonstrates how E&D is integral within our vision, mission and values – it’s just part of our culture,” she said.

“We also have two specific E&D policies - E&D in Employment, and E&D in Service Provision, to demonstrate that we are equally committed to valuing and respecting diversity of our customers as well as our staff.”

Walton said providing staff with training was also valuable in raising awareness of lesbian, gay and bisexual issues in the workplace, as well as including specific reference to sexual orientation in any general articles, training or presentations about E&D.

As well as the top 100, Stonewall recognised particular achievements among entrants, such as naming IBM as Global Employer of the Year. Leicestershire County Council LGBT Workers’ Group won the award for Employee Network Group of the Year.

Shared commitment to equality

Leicestershire County Council corporate communications manager Joanna Morrison has been part of the group since 2008. She said it was important for companies to demonstrate a shared commitment to equality policies in their internal and external business.

“We've climbed the ranking for the fifth consecutive year, moving from 166th in 2009. Last year we made it to 20th place,” Morrison said.

“We've achieved this through making sure what we say on paper is also what we deliver everyday. Being a gay-friendly organisation isn't just about paying lip service, it's about delivering good services for everyone in Leicestershire. 

“Over the last year we've launched a fostering and adoption campaign which encouraged gay and lesbian couples and a programme which helped ‘straight allies’ to champion equality issues throughout the council. 

“We also searched for role models to celebrate those who have made a difference to the lives of gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender people across Leicestershire.”

LGB champion

Professional services firm PwC is also supporting its employees and offers help to anyone through its 'Gay Lesbian and Everyone Else (GLEE) network.

Partner Andy Woodfield, who claimed Stonewall's Senior Champion of the Year, explained: "We set it up at the start of 2012 and wanted to create this inclusive business network so we could try and attract people that were interested in talking about and valuing difference. We've got about 700 to 800 external members now and about 500 internal members.

"I know that when people can come to work everyday and be themselves they can perform better and, therefore, our business performs better so I feel it is the responsibility of leadership, and me as a partner to make sure that I create an environment where people feel comfortable to be themselves."

Judging criteria

Stonewall judged entrants on areas of policy and practice, including employee policy, employee engagement, staff training and development, monitoring, supplier policy, LGB community engagement, and a the staff feedback questionnaire.

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said competition for the 2014 awards had “never been fiercer”.

“This commitment from organisations - across 38 different industries – is changing the face of workplaces for the better for all staff, regardless of their sexual orientation,” he said.

This is the tenth year Stonewall has published the list. It received almost 370 entrants for the 2014 ranking.