'˜Silence of apparently tolerant people is major barrier to LGBT inclusion'

THE SILENCE or inaction of apparently tolerant people is one of the biggest barriers to making lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT) feel welcome at work, according to a former senior figure at Stonewall.

Wednesday, 14th February 2018, 13:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th February 2018, 13:10 pm
Stephen Frost of Frost Included Photo: Miroslav Reljic

Stephen Frost has warned that a climate of apparent acceptance and tolerance towards LGBT people is seductive and dangerous, because “thinking and feeling” must always be backed up with actions to create an inclusive workspace.

Mr Frost, who founded the workplace team at Stonewall, the UK-based LGBT rights charity, said: “There are no medals simply for having gay best friends. The cold hard fact is that a better world does not just happen. People make it happen.

“And the appalling silence or inaction of the good people can actually prevent it happening.”

Mr Frost, who was born in York, is an expert on diversity and inclusion. During a three year stint at Stonewall, he launched the UK’s first LGBT-specific recruitment guide.

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He is urging businesses to use LGBT History month - an annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements - to make their human resources department truly inclusive.

He said: “There’s a saying that goes, ‘People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but never forget how you made them feel.’

“This has never been truer than with LGBT people, this 2018 LGBT history month. One Leeds client that I worked with was convinced it was LGBT inclusive. A professional services firm, where everyone knew gay people, it wasn’t ‘an issue’.

Mr Frost added: “But dig a little deeper and there were people in the closet, people who didn’t appreciate all the banter, and people who absolutely knew it was an issue.”

“Yorkshire is full of good people, who have gay friends. But when pushed to see how we would feel if our own son was gay, rather than someone else’s son, or if our own daughter was dating another woman, rather than a man, the limits of inclusion are tested.”

Mr Frost said that many people in liberal and progressive professions are convinced they are “colour blind” and treat everybody the same.

Mr Frost added: “Lateef Martin, a video game designer, put it brilliantly when he said, ‘Saying you don’t see colour is a lazy way to see the world. It exempts you from putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.’”

“The fact is we all have biases, and the world is not a level playing field. Saying you treat all people the ‘same’ is a misnomer when people are intrinsically different - treating different people the same leads to inequitable outcomes.

He added: “It is doing that creates inclusion. When there has been an obvious ‘problem’, such as discrimination against gay people in the military, there has been an intentional focus on correction.

“But in supposed liberal sectors such as business, there remains a great deal of complacency, and they remain a long way from real inclusion. This is the exact opposite of what many people in those sectors believe.”

Mr Frost said the “basis of credibility” with LGBT people will be whether employers walk the talk.

Organisations can check if they have the best policies and benefits by studying the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

The index will take employers through a range of policies that have been devised to make a workplace attractive to LGBT people. It also provides your business with the chance to benchmark its performance against other organisations.

Mr Frost added: “Then you need to promote your policies and results to demonstrate commitment,and ensure take up.”

“LGBT people won’t assume you are gay friendly unless you tell them. So how you market and position your organisation in the recruitment space is vital. Remember that being LGBT friendly in your communications and marketing doesn’t just pay dividends in attracting gay talent. “It is viewed favourably by other minority groups too, as it shows you value difference. It may also help existing LGBT staff to consider coming out if they are in the closet, as they will have increased trust and confidence in their employer.”

Mr Frost is the founder of Frost Included, a consultancy that aims to make businesses more inclusive.

GOOD employers understand the importance of being inclusive of everyone, according to Stephen Frost.

Employers should actively seek diversity rather than assume the promotion cycle will automatically select the best people.

Mr Frost said: “These processes are inherently flawed and need conscious inclusive leadership to make them more objective. For example, KPMG includes the current demographic diversity of the team and target zones as a ‘nudge’ in the decision-making room to remind people about the consequences of selecting sameness and the opportunity of choosing diversity.”