Diversity management, as part of human resources management has gained exponential importance with the advent of globalization, international working opportunities, human rights for women and minority groups, and more recently with the business case of diversity.
One of the prominent types of diversity is sexual orientation, which companies are increasingly including in their diversity management thanks to the progress of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ+) rights in most Western countries. From 2000 to 2011, we saw the number of Forbes 500 companies that have LGBTQ+-protective policies in place rise from 51% to 85%.
Despite this encouraging number, we witness what is called the policy-practice gap: 84% of LGBTQ+ employees state that their employer put LGBT-positive policies in place, but only 60% of them claimed that their employer was equally LGBTQ+-friendly in practice. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has determined that 53% of LGBT workers continue to remain closeted at work, including 35% who feel forced to lie about their personal lives in a professional context. As a result, concerned LGBT individuals may suffer from anxiety, emotional distress, and exhaustion.
In leaving the policy-practice gap open, we’re missing an important opportunity because managing LGBTQ+ talent is beneficial for both employees and the employer.
The business case for LGBTQ+ diversity management
First and foremost, research proves that diversity management results in increased labor productivity and motivation as well as decreased voluntary turnover. There is also proof of a positive correlation between work performance and higher levels of job satisfaction with successful diversity management.
Second, employees of any sexual orientation perceive companies that promote LGBTQ+ positive policies as more progressive, supportive, and open-minded. These attributes were mentioned as top characteristics for employees to accept job offers, suggesting that LGBTQ+ policies are significant for recruiting, regardless of sexual orientation. In other words, LGBTQ+ diversity management enhances organizational attraction, the extent to which the institution is perceived as a desirable employer.
Shifting the attention to the policy-practice gap of LGBTQ+ diversity management is crucial for business leaders, but a few questions remain to be answered: Why does this gap occur? And how can companies and business leaders close it to value and manage LGBTQ+ talent effectively?
Understanding the policy-practice gap
Successful LGBTQ+ diversity management with the aim of closing this gap happens on three levels, by asking the right questions and benchmarking progress on frontrunner industries. Let’s ask our questions.
What do we offer?
Offers need to be attractive, accessible, and sustainable for eventual success. Frontrunners usually create an LGBTQ+ affinity group to build a community and drive initiatives internally, where HR serves as a formal controlling function. The advantages of LGBTQ+ affinity groups are twofold: they do not require organisations to invest significant resources and can help organisations better identify gaps based on personal experiences. The LGBTQ+ affinity group should focus on developing offers on multiple axes:
First, it should tackle recruitment and outreach by strengthening the recruitment funnel for LGBTQ+ candidates: eliminate biases from the recruitment process (professional services can be of help), actively search for LGBTQ+ talents by targeting niche channels, support candidates during the process with tailored resources (for instance a buddy program to answer questions), and lastly, measure the candidature success compared to non-LGBTQ+ profiles at each stage.
Second, the LGBTQ+ affinity group should provide a safe space for community and exchange. As such, it is important to organise recurring social events within the group, the firm, and also together with other firms, both non-professionally and career-related. Additionally, it is important to include allies (non-LGBTQ+ individuals who are supportive of the community) in the LGBTQ+ affinity group, for instance with a level system, each of which receive tailored resources according to their needs:
- Level 1 for employees who are out to the entire company
- Level 2 for those who are out only to the affinity group
- Level 3 who are out to the affinity group’s leader only
- Level 4 for allies
Third, the affinity group should magnify LGBTQ+ voices. Inside the firm, this means driving the implementation of new policies. Outside the firm, it can refer to lobbying for pro-LGBTQ+ political decisions, for instance, the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
How do we implement it?
Implementation is the next crucial step to solidify LGBTQ+ diversity management. Most of the time, it is also the stage at which well-intended offers fail. On the one hand, practices need to be put in place to avoid challenges across all steps of diversity management implementation.
For starters, bureaucracy can be the main issue for global companies and should be tackled by strengthening connections across branches of the organisation to clarify objectives and inform about progress. Additionally, affinity groups (and thus of employees) are primarily responsible for implementation. That is why they need fixed and sustainable streams of responsibilities, combined with supervision from the HR department, especially in industries with high employee turnover.
On the other hand, other facilitators of implementation should be mobilised if available. Facilitation is achieved through maximizing awareness of LGBTQ+ diversity within the firm, for instance, through top management support, the involvement of all stakeholders, and visible initiatives at the office.
How do we measure success?
Measuring success is the most overlooked step of LGBTQ+ diversity management. Yet, it is key to determining winning practices and shifting focus to the ones that need adjustment. Two types of key performance indicators (KPIs) can be taken into consideration:
Standard KPIs, which focus on retention and promotion of LGBTQ+ employees as well as the results of public indices like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that distribute scores based on LGBTQ+ policies employed by a company.
Frontrunners also use qualitative KPIs to shift the focus from diversity measurement to inclusion measurement. Examples are workplace climate surveys, such as the LGBT Climate Inventory, which measure the extent to which LGBTQ+ employees are effectively included, beyond the mere existence of LGBTQ+-protective policies.
As a best practice, companies should have standard KPIs deeply integrated into their measurements of success but also use qualitative KPIs to measure the extent of the policy-practice gap in the workplace climate.
Let’s close the policy-practice gap
LGBTQ+ diversity management is happening here and now. Companies need to develop actions, fine-tune their implementation and meticulously measure their success to effectively harness the potential of LGBTQ+ talent and maintain their competitive advantage in human resources. Closing the prevailing policy-practice gap needs to be a priority for any company that seeks long-term value creation.