A non-elitist approach to DEI: a simple recipe to empower all LGBTQ+ employees
Personal and professional development of LGBTQ+ staff is a worthy venture. It is not only good business but also sends a clear signal to societies that demand private companies acquire a social license to operate. From internal Employee Resource Group (ERG) to external networking opportunities, a clear recipe to empowering LGBTQ+ employees has emerged.
Exclusive lists of top LGBTQ+ people in business, invitation-only dinners and curated posh events during Pride Month offer peek at a culture of privilege in corporate Diversity and Inclusion efforts which perpetuates inequalities within the LGBTQ+ community and only benefits some at headquarters and in positions of leadership.
They impact a small fraction of senior executives which already made a place for themselves under the sun. Perhaps more negatively, they can get in the way of creating an intersectional pipeline of talent for Senior Management, the Executive Committee, and the Boardroom.
Also read my previous post: tackling the corporate poshness test in the BLM era
As I mentioned in previous posts, the low representation of LGBTQ+ people in Senior Management, the Executive Committee, and the Board is staggering. As an example, only 0.5% of Fortune 500 Board seats are occupied by out LGBTQ+ people, similarly only 0.8% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are out LGBTQ+ people. In France, top LGBTQ+ people in business continue to treat their sexual orientation and gender identity as an aspect of their “private life”. Perhaps more strikingly, a lot of the top LGBTQ+ people in business only come out once they reach the upper echelons of management. And as I witnessed in building a database of aspiring board candidates, women, people of color and non-ivy league professionals remain excluded.
As for other minorities, underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ people in leadership can be traced back to three main sources:
- Lack of self-confidence and feeling of unworthiness: LGBTQ+ people carry with them the negative feedback that society gave them growing up and often continues to give them. Whether workplace policies are positive or not this leads sometimes to underachievement but also self-exclusion.
- Comfort and trust deficit: straight and cisgender colleagues unintentionally perpetuate passive discrimination because of society’s perceptions of LGBTQ+ people.
- Lack of access to formal and informal networks: networking whether formal or informal, internal, or external is a key component of professional achievements. Yet, LGBTQ+ people sometimes continue live at the margins of existing professional networks. To caricature my point, they often do not vacation in Cape Cod, do not serve on the Board of the PGA or join their kids’ school annual benefit organizing committee.
There is a clear recipe for companies to foster LGBTQ+ empowerment for ALL employees:
- Personal development: bringing in speakers from the community, organizing coffee chats; securing a consistent “tone at the top”, encouraging LGBTQ+ employees to join professional groups such as l’Autre Cercle (France), Redi (Spain) or Out & Equal (US) all contribute to boost feeling of worthiness and self-confidence.
- Visibility: giving a platform to internal role models, encourage allies and accomplices within the workplace and foster inter BRGs-connections help dispel prejudice against LGBTQ+ professionals.
- Networking: opportunities such as LGBTQ+ external events, speaking engagements, encouraging staff to join non-profit boards, internal online networks (such as private global Facebook groups and listservs), trade Pride events, industry conferences can boost the network of LGBTQ+ people which are key components to success.
The first step on this journey is for companies to help LGB TQ+ employees build a solid global ERG with incentivized leadership, support from Senior Management, a budget and objectives that are relevant to all. Monitoring the relevance and impact of initiatives on all LGBTQ+ staff, including outside of headquarters, will ensure these objectives contribute to building a diverse talent pipeline.
Increasingly the private sector is hiring diverse LGBTQ+ talent with the promise of a career and support along the way. The challenge is to ensure DEI strategies truly empower them rather than continue to perpetuate the same inequalities it intends to tackle. It might become an even more relevant question in the remote workplace era.
Fabrice Houdart is a former World Bank and UN Human Rights staff | Advisor/Consultant to Global Fortune 500 | Editorial Committee Women’s Forum | Board Member. He serves on the NACD Center for Inclusive Governance’s Advisory Council. You can receive his weekly updates at the interconnection of business and LGBTQ+ rights by signing up here.