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Tackling the last remaining prejudice: achieving sexual orientation diversity and equality at work

I often talk with diversity managers about their key issues and challenges. My conversations suggest that achieving sexual orientation equality remains a challenge for many contemporary organisations, although there are clear legal, social, economic and business imperatives for combatting homophobia, and advancing sexual orientation equality.

Many organisations continue to exclude and marginalize LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) individuals and lose their commitment, labour, and custom, when they only cater for heterosexual norms of work-life, socialisation, and partnership and parenting. However, the good news is that we now have extensive literature with a vast array of recipes for sexual orientation equality. Here, I suggest 10 of the oft-cited good practices for achieving greater equality and diversity by sexual orientation.

1. The most cited method of addressing sexual orientation discrimination is to build LGBT support networks within organisations and to link the feedback from these networks with organisational change and design efforts. Identifying high profile champions for sexual orientation equality in the workplace can improve inclusion, visibility and legitimacy of LGBT networks at work. It is important that the organisation respects and secures the network members choice to conceal or to disclose their sexual identities.

2. In order to monitor and manage effective inclusion of sexual orientation groups, organisations should collect demographic data on sexual orientation from their workforces and other constituent groups. Cross tabulation of this data with other organizational data can help organizations to identify good practice and problem areas across human resource management practices such as recruitment and advancement, and outcomes such as satisfaction, performance and turnover.

3. LGBT individuals are one of the most vulnerable groups in terms of bullying and harassment at work. Organisations should provide individual and collective mechanisms to tackle homophobic bullying and harassment, including an anti-harassment policy, anti-bullying advisors and confidential appeal mechanisms.

4. Organisations should recognise diversity among sexual orientation groups to disclose or conceal their sexual identities. This means that individual demands to disclose sexual orientation as well as to conceal it should be respected in organisational routines.

5. Equality proofing organisational processes, policies, routines, structures, hierarchy and systems can help tackle sexual orientation discrimination and achieve better integration of sexual orientation minorities. Furthermore, decision making, leadership and organisational change efforts should be scrutinized for possible bias against LGBT individuals and for ensuring their full participation and representation.

6. Organisations can connect with charities, employment networks, and trade union committees with LGBT focus to capture progressive approaches for sexual orientation equality. It is important to note that sexual orientation equality requires the diversity manager to connect with and achieve buy in from internal networks, draw on the support of external networks and build connections with and achieve buy in from all sections of the organisation.

7. Organisations should introduce mechanisms to listen to their LGBT workers, through impartial and anonymous systems. This can be achieved through anonymous feedback system of the organization and it can recognize the differences between L, G, B, and T individuals and their varied demands.

8. There is need for joined up thinking to see the relevance of sexual orientation diversity and equality not only to HR departments but to all other functional areas within the organisation. This will require all organisational practices and policies to be scrutinized for impact on LGBT communities in particular and sexual orientation equality issues in general.

9.  Organisations should ensure equality in catering for romantic, sexual and marital relationships as well as arrangements for care and leisure among sexual orientation groups, rather than only to cater for heterosexual work and life demands. As such organisational policies should be crafted to value all sexual orientation groups equally.

10. Organisations can also increase the visibility of their commitment to sexual orientation equality by engaging with not only internal activities but also involving their staff with community event and activities. Organisations may sponsor events, allow staff to volunteer and participate in external LGBT activities.

Mustafa F. Ozbilgin (pictured) is from Brunel Business School, Brunel University