I recently reminded myself of some shocking facts: same sex marriage has only been legal for eight years; same sex couples were only granted equal rights to adopt in 2002; lesbian couples were only given equal access to IVF in 2008; transgender people were only legally able to change their sex in 2004 and private and consensual acts of male homosexuality on the Isle of Man were only decriminalised in 1992.
This sad history lesson illustrates just how nascent any semblance of equality is for the LGBT+ Community. While we can celebrate that many of these archaic and wrong legal limitations have been overturned, their legacy remains and the impact on the personal and professional lives of the LGBT+ community lingers.
We all bear responsibility to help change this and initiatives like LGBT+ History Month help ensure these issues remain at the fore. Like Pride in 2020, LGBT+ History Month has had to go virtual – and without these in person events it is more important than ever that we show visible support to our LGBT+ friends and colleagues.
Although both as a nation and as an industry we have made huge progress over the past few years, there is still so much to do. Sadly, we must all be aware that we likely have colleagues who still feel unable to bring their whole self to work for fear that their sexual orientation will negatively impact how people view them. This can have huge ramifications not only for someone’s professional life but can also start to cause issues in their personal life too. Mental health charity, Rethink Mental Illness, estimates that LGBT+ people are one and a half times more likely to develop depression and anxiety compared to the rest of the population. For this reason, we are still far from finishing our mission to make the industry truly inclusive and diverse.
Initiatives like Employee Networks for colleagues who identify as LGBT+ and their allies are fantastic and ensure that there is a place where we can work together to guide, support and educate each other around the important issues that impact LGBT+ colleagues and amplify this collective voice. But it’s also important to have visible role models and allies to the community throughout businesses who ensure that people feel comfortable being out at work.
Coming out at work is often not a one-time experience. If you move teams or new colleagues join the business some people feel like they must come out all over again and it can be nerve wracking each time. The anxiety that you may not be accepted based on who you choose to love is not something that any of us should accept. Having visible allies throughout our business has helped support all our colleagues to feel confident and comfortable being their authentic selves at work.
Being an ally can mean many different things and can suit a variety of personality types. It can simply be about being a confidant and listening or you can play an active role in amplifying the voices of those who feel marginalised and champion change. However, in order to champion and be an ally to this community there are many nuances and intersections to be aware of. The treatment of LGBT+ people in different religions and cultures, for instance, or the sad reality that mental health issues and suicide attempts are much more common in the transgender community when compared to their cisgender counterparts.
Unsupportive cultures which alienate people and make them feel like they cannot speak out will create barriers to bringing in greater diversity of people and thought and will be detrimental to our mental health, business performance and ultimately our customer outcomes.
Now, more than ever, when we all feel remote from one another, inclusion should be front and centre of any business agenda. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that society is stronger when it stands together, and when we can all be our true and authentic selves.
Karin Cook is chief operating officer at Quilter
This article first appeared on www.esgclarity.com on 11 February 2021.