Law in practice: sexual orientation

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people have long had to put up with inappropriate banter in the workplace. At Lloyds TSB, the diversity team decided to address the culture back in 2003, making it more inclusive of sexual orientation. Today, the organisation is reaping the benefits. This year it won Stonewall’s award for the Most Improved Organisation, moving up to sixth place in its Workplace Equality Index.

The law has certainly been a trigger, notably the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, which prevent employers treating anyone less favourably on the grounds of their sexual orientation and prohibit harassment. More recently the Civil Partnership Act of 2005 and the Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007, which ensure equality in the delivery of goods and services, have addressed the issue.

Business motivation

But, says Melissa Godfray, senior manager, group equality and diversity at Lloyds TSB: “While we are keen to comply with legislation, our main motivation for diversity has always been the business case.”

A research project in 2003-04 surveyed all Lloyds TSB staff, and was followed by focus groups and one-to-one interviews with lesbian, gay and bisexual staff. “This gave us a good insight into what it is like to work for us as a lesbian, gay or bisexual person and confirmed that we had some issues, particularly around banter,” says Godfray. Significantly, both the launch of the research and the results were fronted by the group chief executive to ensure they had a high profile in the organisation. It was made clear that the existing problems would no longer be tolerated.

At about the same time, Lloyds TSB started to monitor its lesbian, gay and bisexual staff. “Our monitoring is incredibly rigorous at every stage of the employment process and is broken down into areas such as recruitment and performance management ratings, as well as by grade. This means we can identify gaps and respond to them quickly. And because all statistical information is shared, not only with the board every six months but everyone else in the business, it has led to real ownership of the issue at regional level – no mean feat when you consider that we employ 66,000 staff.”

Interestingly, the company met very little resistance. Godfray believes this is because it already had a good foundation around diversity.

It quickly became clear that a number of people who took part were keen to continue networking. Godfray’s team helped them establish a formal network entitled Spectrum, which fit alongside – and could learn from – other established staff networks for gender, ethnicity and disability.

The network currently has about 300 lesbian, gay and bisexual staff members and was officially launched in 2005 at an event hosted by the deputy chief executive – the board champion for diversity. “It was a fantastic event that kicked off with an opening speech on why diversity is important to Lloyds TSB, why sexual orientation is an integral part of our diversity strategy and how we intended to take the agenda forward,” Godfray says.

The bank was careful to ensure that lesbian staff members weren’t left out. “Stonewall and other organisations had warned us this can happen, so we made sure we had a female co-chair.” Spectrum now organises a combination of corporate events and informal events both nationally and regionally. It has its own website too, which can be accessed both at home and at work, as well as an e-mail group that people can participate in discreetly if they wish.

Lloyds TSB also set up a working party on the back of the research, consisting of about 20 lesbian, gay and bisexual staff, who are regularly consulted about any gaps in provision.

Emphasis on training

Other initiatives include increasing the emphasis on training about sexual orientation for all staff. With regards to mentoring, staff can request a lesbian, gay or bisexual staff member for mentoring on either a formal or less formal basis and most recently, Lloyds TSB has added sexual orientation to its quarterly employer engagement survey.

Externally, the organisation has done a lot of work to raise its profile – for example, through partnerships with Stonewall and Pride. This year it sponsored a Stonewall booklet highlighting the new legal rights lesbian, gay and bisexual people have under the goods and services regulations.

The disclosure rate has increased 104.8% since Lloyds TSB launched the strategy in 2005, and the percentage of its workforce who are lesbian, gay or bisexual has increased by 66.7%.

“Promotions for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and straight staff are broadly in line and performance management ratings are higher for our lesbian, gay and bisexual staff,” adds Godfray.

The Stonewall Lesbian and Gay Recruitment Guide 2007/08
www.stonewall.org.uk/workplace/1476.asp

HOW TO KEEP SEXUAL ORIENTATION HIGH ON YOUR DIVERSITY AGENDA:



  • Consult your staff to understand the issues and ensure actions taken are effective.
  • Have a strategic action plan, which is endorsed at senior level and includes clear goals.
  • Monitor to ensure local ownership of the issue. Monitoring staff engagement is particularly meaningful as there is a known link between engagement, performance and customer satisfaction.
  • Having a proactive board champion is important, as is ensuring sexual orientation is regularly discussed at board level.
  • Be positive, not defensive. Communications should always be underpinned by the business case.

Melissa Godfray, senior manager, group equality & diversity, Lloyds TSB

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