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Why workplace indexes have become too much like beauty pageants

Why workplace indexes have become too much like beauty pageants

Ian Johnson of Out Now Consulting

Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index, which was announced today, now sees hundreds of UK employers vying for a place in the ‘Top 100’, like similar LGBTI equality indexes in the US, Australia and elsewhere.

The initial point of such indexes is important: to raise awareness of LGBTI issues. Stonewall should be applauded for raising the visibility of these issues.

But things change and PR activity surrounding the release of this Index risks becoming an objective in itself for more than just a few of those vying to get into the list.

The many admirable organizations in this year’s list should be applauded for advancing LGBT issues in their workplaces.

The worry is that pursuing high results in these indexes becomes the overriding focus, distracting from what this is supposed to be about: LGBTI people at work.

Relying on internal staff surveys is not an adequate substitute for a proper nationally comparable analysis.

Measuring organizations only against the few hundred others choosing to enter an index turns the process into something approaching a beauty contest. It does not reflect accurately the tens of thousands of employers across the UK. Most LGBTI people work at smaller organizations, employing fewer than 1,000 people, but indexes too often focus on larger organizations.

Many employees care less what the Stonewall Index ranking is for their employer than they do about what day-to-day work culture is really like; because workplace culture happens when no-one is looking.

Indexes now can represent a revenue-related potential for the organizations publishing them. Some workplace indexes could be said to be very relatable to fee-paying programs run by index organizers.

Correlating the Top 100 of Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index (which is free to enter) with Stonewall’s Diversity Champions program (membership of which costs £2,200) shows that all of this year’s Top 100 organizations are paid members of its Diversity Champions.

Small to medium sized employers – where most LGBT people in the UK actually work – can’t usually afford that kind of money.

Many index entrants are keen to score higher than direct industry competitors. That is interesting for corporate PR but isn’t the most important thing faced by LGBTI people at the organization.

What is lost is where the key focus should be: better understanding and improving actual on-the-ground, lived experiences of LGBTI people every day at work.

The company I head, Out Now, has produced a global LGBT2030 research program. It sampled more than 100,000 respondents living in 25 countries. We regularly see LGBTI people working at highly ranked employers saying they can face daily problems trying to be openly LGBTI at work.

Some organizations are now working with us to adopt what I think is a better approach.

Our Corporate Benchmark Auditing (CBA) measures workforce responses on key questions about what it is like to be out as LGBTI at work. Company results are compared to identical questions from national LGBT2030 data, and compared with responses from people at similarly-sized employers. Outcomes are diagnostic and focused on improving the daily situation for LGBTI people.

Our next CBA work is across the US for a financial company and another across four EU countries, for an accountant.

We reported recently to a British National Health Service (NHS) Trust – and were able to show that organization precisely where they are better than UK averages and – most importantly – where more work needs to be done.

We think that this far into the 21st century it is time for organizations to step up and do better. LGBTI people are counting on it.

Ian Johnson is the CEO of Out Now Consulting.