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Stonewall starts its search for Britain’s best employer for gays

There’s just a week to go until the deadline for British employers to register for Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index – we find out more
Ernst & Young's UK office by the side of the Thames in central London.

British employers who want their diversity work recognized will be working round the clock over the next week.

That’s because 14 September is the deadline their submissions to the only index which counts when it comes to ranking the UK’s top employers for lesbian, gay and bisexual staff.

Run by gay campaign organization Stonewall, the Workplace Equality Index (WEI) ranks the top 100 employers against each other each year.

There's fierce competition for the top spot but even those who don’t make it to the final 100 get a score to show them where they are and help them improve.

It’s become a model for similar schemes beyond Britain too.

Once 400 of the UK’s leading firms have submitted their application, it will take Stonewall the rest of the year to sort through them, check and decide on the final rank.

We ask Alex Van Vliet in Stonewall’s workplace team to tell us more.

At the moment employers are completing their applications for the WEI, what does this involve?

To make a submission to the index, employers fill out a 25-question survey asking what they’re doing to make their workplace the best it can be for lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.

The survey covers a comprehensive range of initiatives for promoting better workplaces - from employee policy to training, career development to community engagement. Stonewall developed these criteria during 10 years of working with Britain’s most progressive employers in our Diversity Champions program.

This application is accompanied by an anonymous survey of participants’ lesbian, gay and bisexual staff – this gives us the full and honest picture both of what the employer is doing to tackle discrimination and how gay employees feel about their workplace.

What kind of evidence do they have to provide to back up their claims?

Employers have to submit supporting evidence of all the claims they make in their submission – copies of policies, training materials or internal communications.

The application and supporting evidence is then evaluated by Stonewall. To guarantee rigor, every employer is assessed twice – first by Stonewall’s workplace team, and second by our policy experts. To ensure full scrutiny of the submission, a range of employers are selected at random for a face-to-face consultation with an external consultant.

To what extent do you also judge employers based on Stonewall’s interaction with them during the year, or is it just based on the formal information handed in during the application and checking process?

The index is free for any employer to enter, so those who aren’t already working with Stonewall as part of our Diversity Champions program have an equal chance of getting into our top 100 employers list.

Each index submission is assessed solely on the application document, supporting evidence and staff feedback, but we offer members of our good practice forum additional feedback and support throughout the year to help them get the most from their index performance.

Where do employers struggle– what are they weak in?

Many of the employers who enter the index have great policies in place, but often don’t know if they’re working in practice – it isn’t always easy to know if your gay employees are receiving equal treatment in practice.

The index challenges employers to show how they are proactively tackling barriers to career development for lesbian, gay and bisexual staff, or working with managers to make sure they’re leading inclusively and setting the right tone.

Are there any tips you can share on how to score well?

Be ambitious – each year our top employers range from small charities to investment banks. Regardless of what sector you’re working in, any employer who can bring their energy, enthusiasm and dedication to improving workplaces for their gay employees will be able to succeed.

What have companies done in the past to give you a 'wow' factor? What would you'd love to see this year?

The ‘wow’ factor can often be from an employer who pays attention to the details – recognizing that lesbians and bisexual men and women might have different experiences of exclusion, or using training in an innovative way.

In the past few years, I’ve been impressed by the number of employers who are working with their suppliers to improve the way that they approach diversity, or reaching out to the wider gay community to support voluntary groups and LGB young people.

Every year we showcase best practice from organizations in our Top 100 Employers report – it’s fantastic to be able to showcase the work that major employers are doing to achieve equality for their lesbian, gay and bisexual staff.

This year – the sky is the limit! I hope we’ll be able to see some employers who going the extra mile to recognize and support same-sex parents in the workplace, or the parents and carers of gay teens.

What happens after the application stage? How does the rest of the process work?

We’re expecting almost 400 submissions this year, and Stonewall’s team spends two months reviewing and marking employer’s applications. When marking is finished, we produce a report showcasing trends and good practice from our Top 100 Employers which will be launched in January 2013.

We’ve had over 13,000 responses to the staff survey so far – we’re hoping that eventually this will reach 15,000 so that our assessments can truly reflect the experiences of the lesbian, gay and bisexual employees of participating organizations.

Read the full 2012 WEI list, topped by professional services firm Ernst & Young, here.

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