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Spotlight on LGBTQ+: Can DEI-Focused Training be a Powerful Education Tool to Drive Inclusivity?

Only 13% of companies in our diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) research on the professional service sector – outlined in our report A Fairer Future – said they focused on LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

We look at LGBTQ+ people’s experience in the professional service sector and whether DEI training can drive inclusivity. We also explain the six building blocks of impactful DEI training.

LGBTQ+ in the UK

LGBTQ+ means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other sexual/gender identities that are not cisgender or heterosexual.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 3.1% of the UK population identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual (Source: A Fairer Future). This number is higher for 16-24-year-olds (8%).

What about trans people? The UK government estimates that there is anything between 200,000 to half a million trans people in the UK. Only around 5000 trans people have a Gender Recognition Certificate, which gives them more legal rights (Source: Trans People in the UK, 2018).

According to Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain: Work Report, one in five LGBT staff have been subjected to hostile comments from colleagues, while one in 12 trans people have been attacked at work by colleagues or customers.

LGBTQ+ in the professional services

How does LGBTQ+ inclusivity measure up in our best and least well-performing professional services sectors – law and architecture – when it comes to DEI? Baseline research is sparse, and we need to understand more about the needs of LGBTQ+ employees through better measurement. Here’s what we know.

Research by Law.com International found that, among the top 50 UK law firms, 5.1% of employees were LGBTQ+. This proportion dropped to 3.4% at partnership level. These figures align with the number of LGB-identifying people in the UK. Some law firms, such as Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, outperformed, with 15% of its partners being LGB- identifying.

By contrast, architecture shows a complex picture, according to research by the Architects Journal (AJ) in 2013. 74% of LGB architects said they were comfortable being out in the workplace. Fewer reported comfort in being out outside London, and this figure dropped to 54% in Scotland.

Only 41% of architects felt comfortable being out at external and industry events, and a mere 16% felt comfortable at construction sites. Microaggressions were common. 46% said they had heard ‘gay’ being used as an insult at work. 87% said colleagues don’t challenge offensive comments.

As a consequence of this research, a support group – LGBT+ Architects – was set up in 2016.

Counteracting LGBTQ+ discrimination through DEI training

DEI training for wider teams can be a vital tool to help LGBTQ+ employees feel respected, seen and safe. Feeling psychologically unsafe is not going to help individuals perform their jobs well. As one Stonewall Manager commented about AJ’s research: ‘If gay or lesbian employees aren’t open about their sexual orientation at work, they can expend energy trying to hide it – energy that would be far better spent focusing on work.’

Equality and inclusion for LGBTQ+ people makes excellent business sense, and it requires formal training and ongoing monitoring. What should businesses be thinking about when it comes to employee training?

Training for acceptance

The building blocks of successful DEI training around LGBTQ+ must include the following:

Education

There is widespread confusion about issues of sexuality and gender. Explaining what these terms mean, the history of LGBTQ+ people and why discrimination matters, is a critical component of training. Too often, we assume knowledge where none exists, leading to disengagement and even a vacuum for fear and prejudice to grow or be exploited.

Language

Language has always been a form of resistance for LGBTQ+ people. Explaining the terms transgender, cisgender and non-binary and why some people use pronouns, for example, can be helpful.

Explaining intersectionality can help employees understand how multiple markers of disadvantage can alter and worsen experiences of LGBTQ+ discrimination.

Challenging a culture of discrimination

Employees need training to raise awareness of behaviours that can contribute to discrimination. They need to know what microaggressions are, and how these can hurt individuals and organisations.

Exercises and tactics to uncover unconscious bias can encourage reflection and growth and mitigate preconceptions of LGBTQ+ people.

Being an ally

Employees and leaders should be encouraged to act in ways that support LGBTQ+ people; for example, speaking up when they hear or see discriminatory practices or conversations. It requires people to work in a consciously inclusive way.

The ‘culture war’ narrative impacts many marginalised groups and can affect what happens in workplaces. DEI training can allow employees to air these disagreements or feelings and be subject to challenge safely, minimising harm to LGBTQ+ colleagues. 

Process and procedure

DEI training can help individuals in different departments do a deep dive into their procedures and practices to root out any causes of discrimination.

Human Resources is one such example. To what degree are recruitment practices such as candidate assessment affected by unconscious bias? Do the attributes required for promotion discriminate against LGBTQ+ people?

Leadership

In our report, A Fairer Future, we noted that leadership is central to driving an effective DEI strategy. Karen Fugle, a consultant who coaches women architects in their professional lives and is a member of Women in Architecture, and whom we interviewed for our report, says:

“We have bias training, but I don’t know whether that training hits the top level of the company or whether it’s aimed at the mid-to-lower end.”

Leadership sets the tone for anything from company values and policies – such as having safe spaces to air experiences – to decision-making and who gets a promotion.

Inclusion for LGBTQ+ people in the professional services sector is inconsistent, with some sectors and companies doing more than others. DEI training can help to change attitudes and enable LBGTQ+ people to feel safe to be themselves in the workplace.

Download the report for more insights.

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