Why equality is good for employers

There has been lots going on this summer in Glasgow, with TRNSMT festival taking residence at Glasgow Green over two weekends, Summer Nights at the Bandstand and FriendsFest to name but a few; but this weekend it is Glasgow Pride that takes centre stage at Kelvingrove Park.

More than 5,000 people are expected to take part in the march which starts at Clyde Place, making its way through the City Centre to Kelvingrove Park, to show their support for the LGBT+ community and LGBT+ rights. At Kelvingrove Park acts such as Big Brother winner Courtney and X Factor runner up Grace Davies will take to the stage.

Acts such as Mel C may be taking to the stage for Pride, but it is the Equality Act 2010 that aims to achieve equality and diversity in the workplace. In force for almost eight years, this Act provides protection from discrimination for individuals with certain protected characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

The Act makes it unlawful to treat people less favourably or unfavourably, including harassment and victimisation, because of or related to these protected characteristics. The law applies before, during and even after employment – but does it do enough?

Research by Stonewall found that almost one in five LGBT+ people who were looking for work said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity while trying to get a job in the last year. More than a third have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT+ at work in the last year because they were afraid of discrimination.

The law has come a long way and we should not forget that (homosexuality was not decriminalised in Scotland until the 1980s and even then it was against the law to “promote” homosexuality in schools for some time) but it could do more.

Individuals who identify as LGBT+ are likely to be protected because of their “sexual orientation” or “gender reassignment” but it arguably does not extend to the entire LGBT+ community. For example, the Act does not provide protection to trans or non-binary people who have not or do not intend to undergo a process to reassign their gender (because of the strict definition of the protected characteristic of gender reassignment).

But we should not rely solely on the law to ensure equality and diversity in the workplace, there are steps that employers should take too. That doesn’t have to be all rainbows and glitter (but if you want to, why not?) but can be as simple as a bake sale for an LGBT+ charity, identifying and supporting LGBT+ role models, and/or recruiting and promoting diverse candidates. It’s sometimes the small things that have the most impact.

Employers should take positive and visible steps. This will make employees feel more comfortable and relaxed (and ultimately more productive) at work. Proactive involvement or sponsorship of events such as Pride will help show applicants and staff that the business supports LGBT+ rights. Above all, treat everyone equally and fairly and be mindful of different people’s situations – not everyone is the same, and that is ok.

LGBT+ friendly workplaces are not only good for productivity – if employees feel comfortable and happy at work they will be more productive – but there are financial and reputational consequences for employers who get it wrong. Since employment tribunal fees were abolished last year, tribunal claims have increased by more than 100 per cent. Compensation for discrimination claims is potentially uncapped and the bands used to calculate compensation for injury to feelings awards in discrimination claims were increased last year. It is more important than ever for employers to consider their obligations and to take specialist employment law advice, where necessary. Further, employment tribunal decisions are now available online to anyone.

Clear, relevant and fit for purpose policies should form part of the workplace strategy to achieve equality and diversity; and don’t forget to ensure employees are aware of these policies. Equality and diversity training for staff is another way to ensure staff know what is expected of them and that the employer takes equality seriously.

There can be little doubt that the workplace is a much more inclusive place than it once was, but there is still some way to go.

One in eight lesbian, gay and bi people would not feel confident reporting any homophonic or biphobic bullying to their employer; and one in five trans people wouldn’t report transphobic bullying in the workplace.

Employers should take a step back and think about ways to change these statistics – after all, it’s the employer who will benefit in the long run.


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