Restarting an Old Discussion: LGBT Equality in the Workplace

It is still a widespread assumption in some cultures – and quite a few companies – that a person’s sexual orientation does not matter at work and therefore shouldn’t be actively adressed by diversity programmes. Experts, however, know that this resistance typically refers only to non-straight identities as heterosexuality is being made visible and audible all over the (work)place. Despite the many LGBT Diversity large-scale projects that already took place over the past ten years, like the Deutsche Bank’s public conference “Invisible Potential” in 2003, and the regular coverage of the topic in the Media, a recent move of the global insurance company Allianz created quite some irritation among blue chip executive boards. In a confidential communication, which miraculously leaked onto business paper front pages, the Allianz executive board invited all CHROs of other leading firms to consider steps towards the better integration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees at the workplace and also in management where there are almost no openly gay or lesbian senior executives. Corporate reactions clearly show that the move took many outside their comfort zones. One of the quite surprising reactions included a spokesperson of Lufthansa saying that the sexual orientation of an employee was not an issue for the company. Also Volkswagen expressed that the sexual orientation did not play a role although its financial subsidiary Volkswagen Bank had hosted the first-ever meeting of corporate LGBT employee groups back in 2005. A few other blue chip companies showed similar reservations about Allianz’s move.
Meanwhile, in Great Britain, companies have become much more pro-active regarding sexual orientation in the workplace. The British Government Equalities Office have recently published a survey about the workplace equality of LGBT employees in UK companies, which seems to be very different from the German reality. The report shows that the main motivators for organisations to make a workplace more LGBT-friendly are anticipated business benefits, legislation and a general concern for more equality and diversity. There seems to be, however, still a surprising lack of evidence on the business case for LGBT-friendliness. But hasn’t that been the killer argument for various kinds of D&I initiatives for many years? Other barriers the survey quotes include a lack of knowlegde about the topic, the belief that no action is required due to already existing fairness as well as other priorities in the D&I arena. One conclusion of their findings recommends an increased good practice guidance on transgender and sexual orientation equality, the promotion of employer networks on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as the separation in the treating of LGB and transgender issues.
What both initiatives show is a wide-spread learning from many current moves in the D&I arena: New stakeholders in the field launch activities without considering what has been built over many years. This relatively new attitude can be regarded as a result of the increased momentum around D&I, fueled by public debate. The limited impact of isolated activities, however, shows that partnering with other stakeholders and thus role-modelling inclusion will create better results – also for D&I projects.