Diversity: What does an LGBT-inclusive leader look like?

Sanjay Sood-Smith, executive director of workplace and community programmes at LGBT equality charity Stonewall, gives some tips on being an LGBT-inclusive leader.

We spend most of our adult lives at work, and people should not have to spend that time worrying about whether or not they feel safe and comfortable to be themselves.

Creating more inclusive LGBT environments for their staff [can help with] strengthening customer orientation, increasing employee satisfaction, enhancing the company image, improving decision making and better economic performance.

Sanjay Sood-Smith, executive director of workplace and community programmes

Many lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people do not feel the workplace is somewhere they feel they can be open about their identity. Stonewall's research reveals that more than one-third of LGBT staff (35%) have hidden who they are at work for fear of discrimination. Not only that, but one in five (18%) have been the target of negative comments from colleagues, while one in eight trans people (12%) have been physically attacked by a customer or colleague in the past year.

Although many employers across all sectors show a real commitment to inclusion, these statistics make clear that there is clearly still lots to do.

Creating a workplace that accepts everyone is not just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. When staff feel comfortable and happy, they will perform much better than if they have to hide who they are.

No matter what point you are starting from, there is always more you can do to make your organisation more LGBT-inclusive. While creating this environment is never a tick-box exercise, it is something that can start with everyday actions. Here are some steps every HR team can take.

Be open and honest about what you don't know

No one expects you to be the expert on LGBT issues or to have the right answer for every issue. So do not be afraid of getting things wrong. It is also OK to say you don't know.

A crucial, but often forgotten, part of learning how to support LGBT people both inside and outside the workplace is that it is a learning process. If you make a mistake, it does not have to be a big deal. What is important is to apologise, learn from it, and think about how best to move forward.

It is not a weakness to get something wrong or to ask someone else for help, as long as you use it to further your understanding about LGBT inclusion.

Speak to and engage with your LGBT staff

No two organisations or workforces are the same. What works for a business with 10 staff, might not necessarily work for one with 10,000.

The organisations leading the way on LGBT inclusion do so because they listen to their LGBT staff to address the challenges they face. The people who experience these issues on a day-to-day basis will be best placed to talk about what needs to change. One way to do this is to create an LGBT staff network, or if you are part of a smaller company, look for industry networks people can join.

But LGBT staff cannot be expected to solve the problems on their own. That's why it is important that leaders in the company are involved and engaged in conversations with the network, so solutions can be agreed together. One way to do this is to introduce a "reverse mentoring" scheme, where junior LGBT staff can speak with and mentor senior members of staff. Not only does this help increase understanding of issues facing LGBT staff, it also gives those LGBT people an invaluable career development opportunity.

Support and celebrate events in the LGBT calendar

Key LGBT calendar dates

LGBT history month - February

Trans day of visibility - 31 March

LGBT Pride month - June

Transgender day of remembrance - 20 November

Whether it is Pride, Trans Day of Visibility, or LGBT History Month, it can be incredibly powerful for both staff and customers to see a business coming out and supporting LGBT events.

Days and months like these are a chance for you to highlight LGBT role models in your organisation, and you get to send out a clear message to the wider society that your business is inclusive.

Review your policies and procedures

Policies are the foundation of any workplace, and having explicitly LGBT-inclusive discrimination, bullying and harassment policies helps all employees feel confident identifying and reporting incidents. Businesses with high-performing staff typically have inclusive policies and benefits that apply to everyone.

You can also update your HR systems to offer gender-neutral pronouns, such as "Mx" on titles, and develop policies to support employees who are transitioning, including information on confidentiality, dress codes and facilities.

Get allies involved

Allies are people who do not identify as lesbian, gay, bi or trans, but who actively support, champion and promote an LGBT-inclusive culture.

Anyone can be an ally, whether it is the father whose daughter has just come out as bi or the manager who supported someone in their team through coming out at work.

Everyone's way of being an ally is different, so for some it might be by wearing a rainbow pin badge or lanyard. For others, it might be challenging anti-LGBT comments or "banter" at work.

Inclusion moving forward

More and more employers are aware that, in order to succeed, they need their staff to feel confident to be themselves at work. Having an open and diverse workforce and environment leads to higher levels of motivation, creativity, and productivity. This is something every employer should want from its staff. It is good for employees, the business, and customers.

You need to make sure that in all the legislation that is internal to your organisation, like policies and ways that you do business, you explicitly state that LGBT identities are included, and then you can set about doing the work to make sure that they're implemented effectively and there's a culture that underpins that.

Sanjay Sood-Smith, executive director of workplace and community programmes

Getting people to use the right language, understand the issues, and be empowered to challenge inappropriate behaviour all help to create a culture where diversity is celebrated and where inclusion means your team works better because of their differences, not in spite of them.

LGBT-inclusion is a long-term change, and it won't be something that can happen overnight. But it has the power to transform the daily lives of LGBT staff, turning work from a place of worry to somewhere they can feel comfortable and confident to bring their whole selves. A change like this can also bring about change to your workplace culture, improving motivation and helping you bring out the best in all your employees.

No matter what your role in the business, we all have a part to play in making sure that our workplaces and communities accept and support LGBT people - without exception.