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Meet the gay workplace leaders

Meet the gay workplace leaders

In some ways it is surprising how much of an impact the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index has.

Employers participating in the annual survey provide detailed responses to a comprehensive range of questions about their lesbian, gay and bisexual workplaces practices. And they submit evidence to prove they offer a diverse and inclusive workplace.

While the business case for actively promoting diversity and equality is well established, the Workplace Equality Index (WEI) is one of the few external benchmarks that enable companies to demonstrate that they are getting it right in the UK.

And it’s given credibility because it’s all run by Stonewall, Britain’s leading lesbian, gay and bisexual campaign group.

For the alpha males and females that generally occupy business leadership roles, there is something quite satisfying about a league table – especially when you’re at the top.

James Lawrence, communications officer with Stonewall, says that there are a couple of key factors that differentiate those companies that score well in the WEI and those that don’t: ‘High scoring companies are looking beyond an internal focus and are engaging with their suppliers and the wider community on diversity and equality issues, and – even more importantly – high scoring companies have got good results on their staff satisfaction survey which now has a higher weighting than ever in the WEI results.’

While it is always interesting to see how different organisations’ diversity and equality initiatives stack up when compared against a consistent set of criteria, I wanted to speak with some of the people behind these results – to find out what it feels like to work for a top 100 employer and to understand what motivates the individuals that are creating workplaces that value diversity.

Tim Jarman is diversity and inclusiveness adviser, UK and Ireland for Ernst & Young, one of the world’s leading accountancy and professional services firms which proudly topped the WEI this year.

‘Diversity and inclusiveness is core to our values and corporate culture at Ernst & Young,’ he said. ‘Investing in D&I helps ensure that all our people are able to be themselves in the workplace and achieve their potential, whilst also enabling us to connect with our clients and communities in different ways.

‘The Workplace Equality Index challenges us to continue to innovate and improve. Being named Stonewall’s “Employer of the Year” was a great achievement for us, but we certainly won’t be resting on our laurels. Even the day after the launch of the 2012 WEI results our LGBT network, EYGLES, held an event focused on exploring inclusive leadership in the military, with guest speakers from the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

‘The event also demonstrated the power that role models have in driving culture change. Within Ernst & Young we have many active role models, at all levels within the firm, supporting LGBT issues and D&I in all its different aspects and strands. The commitment and support of these individuals has been a huge benefit to our work in this area.

‘Creating a diverse workplace and supporting diverse perspectives, is crucial for our business; it will continue to stay at the top of our agenda.’

Number seven on the index was Accenture, global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company – and the largest consultancy firm in the world. I spoke with Patrick Rowe who, for the last four years, has been executive sponsor of Accenture’s LGBT employee network.

Having openly gay men, bisexuals and lesbians in senior executive positions is strongly promoted by Stonewall as evidence of a workplace that values diversity and equality – Rowe fits the bill, having joined Accenture in 1995 he is currently associate general counsel (leading the firm’s legal teams in the UK and Europe), sits on the board of Accenture UK and is part of the firm’s UK executive leadership team. As you would expect from an experienced lawyer, Rowe considers each of my questions carefully and helpfully summarizes his answers to ensure that the key message is clear.

‘Our employee network started out as a social network, but we’ve now moved well beyond that to truly be part of the fabric of the business. We want to make sure that Accenture is an employer of choice for LGBT people – it’s always hard to attract and retain the best talent, so we need to create an environment where everyone can be free to be themselves,’ he explains.

While Rowe says he has never personally experienced any discrimination or harassment in the workplace, he admits that he hasn’t always been comfortable to be immediately open about his sexuality: ‘The strides that have been made in recent years certainly makes that easier.’

Eighth on the index was technology giant IBM. Roland White, IBM sales eminence leader, is one of the key drivers of IBM’s LGBT employee network. Despite his obscure role title, White is making a big impact at IBM and for the last four years has been actively supporting, mentoring and coaching IBM employees and managers, both in the UK and other countries, in how to value diversity within their teams.

‘The key is not to fear it, but embrace and nurture it,’ he says.

For White, the value of getting diversity and equality right extends well beyond the workplace: ‘When you work for a company that values you as an individual, it makes you feel that you are important and valued as a person, not just another employee. I could not imagine having to go to work each day for a company where I had to hide who I was, and what I was feeling.’

Ranking at number 10 on this year’s index, Simmons & Simmons is the UK’s highest placed law firm. I met with Geoffrey Rimington, a member of Simmons & Simmons LGBT employee network, in the firm’s modern but labyrinth-like offices behind Moorgate in the City – the financial and business heart of London.

Rimington has worked for the firm for the last four years and confirms that their high ranking in the WEI reflects the general culture of the firm: ‘I’ve found Simmons & Simmons to be a very relaxed environment where I can just be myself – I don’t have to edit what I say, I can comfortably talk about my private life and interactions with my colleagues and clients can be authentic.’

However Rimington realises that he is fortunate to be working for one of the more progressive law firms: ‘Lawyers, by nature, tend to be conservative people and law firms are traditionally very conservative places – for some firms it might take a bit longer for the diversity and equality business case to be fully understood.’

He sees his biggest challenge as resisting apathy and inertia: ‘Having passionate people keeping our employee network strong and with a clear agenda ensures that we don’t allow any form of homophobia to creep into our workplace.’

But another law firm, Baker & McKenzie, has made it into the top 20 of the WEI for the first time (ranking 19th, up from 45 last year). Gary Senior, managing partner of Baker & McKenzie's London office, told Gay Star News this improved ranking was ‘…a result of the outstanding contribution of our LGBT network members.’

I spoke with Richard Davies, an associate solicitor who is a member of Baker & McKenzie’s LGBT employee network and has worked with the firm for the past four years.

‘Baker & McKenzie was my first proper job in a professional environment,’ he explained. ‘Being a junior person at a law firm can be very intimidating but if you are unsure about how open to be about your sexuality this can really put you at a disadvantage.’

Davies’ drive and enthusiasm is infectious: ‘Any organisation is only as good as its people. Our employee network is so strong because of our genuine passion for making life better for people – not only in the firm’s London office but also in our offices around the world, which is a challenge in some of the more conservative countries in which we work.’

For Paul Rae, in-house solicitor with Glasgow-based Clydesdale Bank (67th on this year’s WEI), working for a company that didn’t value diversity and equality wouldn’t make any sense: ‘I thrive on working in an environment where different personalities exist. A diverse workforce is key to achieving this – when we are happy and comfortable at work we are more productive.’

Rae has a quick, sharp sense of humour and it’s clear that he would not be easily intimidated. And while he says he has not personally experienced any workplace discrimination or harassment, he admits that: ‘As a lawyer specialising in employment law, it would be a brave employer or colleague to take me on! My job is to champion equality and avoid discrimination. I wouldn't be doing that if I tolerated any form workplace discrimination.’

For Stonewall’s Lawrence, since its launch in 2005 the WEI framework has helped many of the UK’s workplaces to come a long way but there is still work to do: ‘Legislatively we now have a strong framework to protect LGBT workers from discrimination, but if you look at the WEI there are still sectors that are clearly missing and choosing not to participate.’

The WEI is clearly a powerful and highly valued benchmarking tool for employers, but it’s the ‘Power Gays’ within those companies that are delivering meaningful outcomes for LGBT people across the UK and shaping our workplaces of the future.

You can read the full Top 100 in Stonewall’s 2012 Workplace Equality Index here. The full WEI report can be downloaded from the official Stonewall site.