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Glee at work: A gay staff group for everyone

GSN interviews Andy Woodfield from PwC on how they have created GLEE, an LGBT staff network which works for straight people too
The team from GLEE@PwC taking part in a fundraising walk for UK gay organization Stonewall in Brighton.

When you run a professional services firm, like global giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the only resource you really have is your ‘talent’.

So it’s no surprise they take staff diversity seriously.

They have relaunched their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network to make it even more inclusive. It’s now called GLEE@PwC but the name doesn’t mean they’re singing in school corridors, instead it’s an acronym for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone Else.

Although headquartered in London, PwC has staff working around the world offering tax advisory, financial and consultancy services and their Australian arm was recently named as the country’s top employer for LGBT people in 2012.

In Britain, they are rated as the 100th most gay friendly employer by leading gay organization Stonewall but Andy Woodfield, the lead partner for GLEE@PwC in the UK, makes only a poor secret of his ambition to improve on that ranking.

We asked him to tell us more about GLEE and how it involves everyone, even people who aren’t employed by PwC.

What is your role at PwC?

I have a number of roles within the firm, I spend 90% of my time running the firms International Aid Development Consulting business, this is a commercial business that sees us using the full power of PwC network of firms to improve the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

We help to deliver effective aid programmes and drive value for money from aid spend for international donors including the UK Department for International Development. On an internal and external basis, I’m also a coach to individuals and leadership teams, raising their awareness of their strengths and helping them understand the impact they can have when they harness those strengths.

Has your company's LGBT-friendly stance helped get you there?

PwC has always respected and encouraged its people to explore what makes them unique or different, it’s this core value of difference as something we all have in common that helped me to respect my difference, some of that being about being a gay man.

You have recently taken on responsibility for the LGBT staff network and made some changes, what was wrong with it before?

We’d made great progress in the policy space and created a strong LGBT community within the firm. However, we really felt it needed to be more inclusive; it needed to involve people who weren’t LGBT as more than just ‘allies’. We also wanted it to be more business focused and less of a social club for the LGBT community.

We feel strongly that difference is something we all have in common so inclusion is a big deal for us, we wanted to extend that inclusion beyond the usual boundary of the firm.

And how do your changes improve it?

We made a number of changes around its ‘brand’ but also how we communicated and involved people. We changed the name to GLEE @ PwC - Gays, Lesbians and Everyone Else, making it an inclusive business network.

We created a forum on LinkedIn for our clients, our people and those in our extended networks to join in the debate around ‘difference as something we all have in common’. Our LGBT community have realised that they have a huge amount to offer in helping those beyond that community engage with their own difference – to help them bring their whole selves to work.

We have a working environment at PwC that allows people to be themselves – we know people perform better when they can be themselves. Our LGBT folk are now on a mission to help everyone respect their difference and be themselves at work, this includes our friends, families, our community and our clients.

So who can get involved with GLEE now?

We like to demonstrate that we walk the talk. Our vision as a firm is one that does the right thing for our clients, our people and our communities. GLEE @ PwC brings this to life by opening up our network to our clients, our people and those in our wider community or business networks.

People are welcome to join regardless of sexuality, race, gender, religion or ability. Members don’t need a label like gay, lesbian, straight or bisexual – they just have to be up for embracing the uniqueness of all people.

Is there something here other employers can learn from?

LGBT staff have so much knowledge and experience about being ‘different’, they are, so to speak, totally qualified to talk about difference and valuing difference. But the value in that reaches far beyond those who are happy to label themselves LGBT, one could argue that 90% of the value in that knowledge and experience is in the communities beyond LGBT.

Of course there remains a huge need to support those who are just starting on their LGBT journey, these people are unlikely to be in LGBT networks so, in my mind, we have a responsibility to open our LGBT networks up and make them fully inclusive, this should better support those LGBT people who are just starting out and help those who are not LGBT learn about their difference from our difference.

What kind of practical things does GLEE do?

We now run monthly workshops and events that focus on mental, physical and career wellbeing; this is all about building strength in who we are as unique individuals, keeping strong and resilient so that we might be at our best more often and most importantly, happier too. All of our events are published on our LinkedIn group and are open to everyone, inside and outside of the firm.

Can you make a business case for GLEE as it is now? How do you expect it to help PwC?

It’s already helping. We’ve had a significant growth in members both inside and beyond the firm and made quite a noise about it within the firm. This has helped raise the profile of ‘difference’ within the firm and reminded everyone how important it is – the result is that our people have reminded themselves that we respect difference and they are also reminding themselves that we all perform better when we can be ourselves.

This message is also reaching our clients and helping us to build more authentic human-to-human relationships with them, rather than the usual client to supplier relationships that are common when we ‘act’ in our job roles rather then embrace who we are as unique individuals.

A number of new client opportunities have also arisen and we’ve been asked to help clients on their journey too.

You recently made it into the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index [which ranks Britain's top LGBT employers] at number 100. Is going up the list important and will this help?

Getting an independent view of how we’re doing is good, it’s one of the many ways we measure how we’re doing. We work closely with Stonewall to learn from them and also do what we can to use our influence as a major business to drive forward the LGBT agenda.

Stonewall provide an amazing benchmark for workplace equality and we use this as the baseline for the work we are doing with GLEE @ PwC. I use the term baseline deliberately, because we’re not on this journey just to move up the Stonewall ranking, although that would be great, we’re on this journey to help everyone respect difference – this has an impact beyond the LGBT community and beyond PwC, we feel a sense of responsibility as one of the world’s largest professional services firms to raise the profile of difference and inclusion.

You've got staff working around the world for PwC. Is it a challenge to be a good employer to LGBT people in every country you operate in? How do you handle that?

I think if you respect people as individuals first and then try to understand the individual challenges then you can make this work. Clearly it’s more of a challenge in some countries than others but leading with ‘difference’ helps rather than leading with ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’. Once people can respect their own difference they tend to be better placed to respect the difference in others – regardless of what that difference is.

Do you have any other ambitions for GLEE or for PwC as a ‘diversity employer’?

I would love another firm to pick up the GLEE name, we have GLEE @ PwC, but it would be amazing for another organisation to use ‘GLEE @ their name’.

We’ve already made good progress in diversity as an employer, and we actively consider diversity and inclusion during recruitment and promotion processes within the firm. When we hire or promote people, we look for distinctiveness, not to fit a mould.

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