#PrideMatters - Tackling our colleagues’ fears: my commitment to improving the confidence of LGBT people in our workplace

13 July 2018

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I am proud to be a straight ally - proud and a bit surprised.  Because a year ago I wouldn't have imagined that I would want to take a stand on an issue that was so remote from my everyday experience. That issue is prejudice, or the perception of prejudice, against LGBT people in the workplace.

The workplace which brought me up with a start was the Church of England. I can only begin to describe the shame and outrage that I felt, as an active member of the C of E, when a relative, who is training for ordination, was denied a church wedding because she was marrying a woman. In order to have a Christian ceremony, she had covertly to mimic a church service in a disused chapel, with the support of sympathetic clergy.  I realised that day that my relative was at the beginning of a really difficult journey, as she seeks to fulfil her vocation in an organisation which undermines her dignity and self-worth. And how important it was to her that we gave her our full support.

I then discovered from a survey that in our own firm, where we are so proud, rightly, of our culture and the diversity of our workforce, only 43% of our lesbian, gay and bi employees were comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to their managers. We are not a typical employer.  This year we were 15th in the Sunday Times list of the 100 Best Companies to work for, a list which results from an anonymous survey based on the views of over a quarter of a million employees across the country.  57% of our partners are female - not as a conscious policy on our part, but simply because we promote on merit. When I say that we are proud of our culture, therefore, there is substance to my belief.

So why then do we, and other firms, perform so badly in this key metric concerning the willingness of our LGBT colleagues to be out with their managers? Almost certainly the reason is fear of the consequences of doing so.  This is an issue at every level, not just for young people.  When the former chief executive of BP, Lord Browne, wrote his book, The Glass Closet, about his experiences of being a gay man in the workplace, he told the Guardian that many gay business leaders were too scared to be interviewed even anonymously.  Perhaps they were worried about what their staff might think.  Perhaps they were worried about what their customers might think.  Prejudice need not necessarily be overt, but people do worry about real consequences: a failure to gain promotion, a failure to win a contract, or more simply a failure to be accepted.

I do not know if beyond a generalised fear of consequences there are particular factors affecting the confidence of LGBT people to be out to their managers in my firm.  But I do realise that not being able to be open about themselves will have affected their self-esteem and self-worth. I also know that I am in a position as Kingsley Napley’s Senior Partner to do something about it, and so I have set myself the following objectives against which I shall be glad to be judged:

  1. I will support the LGBT community at Kingsley Napley
  2. I will speak up if ever I hear, or hear of, derogatory or inappropriate behaviour
  3. I will actively listen to the experience of LGBT people in our workplace, to understand better the issues that we need to tackle.
  4. I will educate myself on LGBT issues.

Each year in this firm I will report on what I hope and expect will be our improving performance in promoting the confidence of our LGBT people in our workplace. In particular, I will promote the importance of creating a safer environment so that more of our LGBT people feel that they can be open with their managers.

 

Kingsley Napley are publishing a series of blogs to celebrate Pride and to raise awareness about the issues facing LGBT+ people in our communities. You can view our other blogs here.

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