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LGBT tech leader takes Digital Pride in diversity in the workplace

Diversity and inclusion is a topic which I love to champion here at CBR, but I hold my hands up at the fact that I have been far from diverse in the topics which I have covered. Of course, I have done this unconsciously, with much of the diversity discourse geared towards gender and women in technology. However, this week an event has thrown the spotlight onto another minority group, the LGBT community.

Digital Pride, billed as the online global pride movement and spearheaded by Gay Star News, aspires to be the Pride where nobody is left out and has bold ambitions to become the biggest LGBTI Pride event in the world. Now in its second year, Digital Pride’s 2016 debut reached over 25 million people in 240 countries around the world, offering everyone an equal part in the celebrations via a computer or smartphone.

Offering discussions, live performance, and competitions, Digital Pride sets itself a part in the fact that politics, global issues and business – often excluded from other Pride events – take a central part in the week-long event.

LGBT leader talks Digital Pride in technology

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One major sponsor of the event is Fujitsu, one of the only tech companies to be recognised as a Stonewall 100 Employer. The company’s inclusion in the Stonewall 2016 Workplace Equality Index revealed just how bad the tech industry is when it comes to the LGBT community. For Caroline Shrader, head of Fujitsu’s LGBT network Shine, the lack of LGBT representation in tech has many parallels with the current gender bias in the industry.

“There is still a masculine culture that surrounds IT and it is still seen to be an industry that has a certain set of values which are associated towards a heterosexual, white male view of the world,” Shrader told CBR.

“For LGBT people trying to access that presents very similar challenges to the challenges which women face.”

Career progression, discrimination and prejudice are shared barriers for both women and the LGBT community – but interestingly, Shrader argues, if you solve the issues for one group then the knock-on effect will benefit others.

“If you represent yourself as a diverse organisation in one area then that tends to speak volumes about how you are represented in other areas as well. So if you are an organisation which really displays fantastic policies and fantastic support for women, then as a LGBT person you can look at that and think there is a good chance that they will have good LGBT representation or policies.”

LGBT workplace diversity
Caroline Shrader, head of Fujitsu’s LGBT network Shine

While LGBT people and women in tech are united by the shared barriers in the workplace, there are unique challenges facing LGBT people. Shrader, who was listed in the Top 20 Future LGBT leaders list in the Financial Times, told CBR:

“LGBT people grew up in a world that wasn’t really made for them and they grew up being outsiders.

“I think when you are progressing in your career and taking steps to develop yourself you are always going to have that historic part of your growth that means that you don’t have quite the confidence that you would do otherwise.”

This means that is vital for businesses to have special training and initiatives in place which are targeted towards LGBT people specifically – for example, the extra support needed for when a transgendered colleague returns to work following reassignment surgery.

In order to support the needs of the LGBT community, businesses need to look at the existing policies and practices – a key focus for Fujitsu’s LGBT network Shine. The group not only supports initiatives like Digital Pride, but ascribes the LGBT perspective on the business in order to bolster support and ultimately bring people together.

However, although Fujitsu is one business looking at how to support minorities in the workplace, one only need look at diversity numbers to see that adoption is slow in the tech industry. It is well known that a diverse and inclusive workforce breeds innovation and contributes positively to a business’s bottom line – yet some businesses are still reluctant to place importance on knowing the sexual orientation or identity of their employees. However, in a world where data is key, businesses should be looking for insight into the LGBT representation in their business, as Shrader says, “data drives behaviours”.

lgbt diversity in the workplace

“Information of employees sexual orientation allows you to look at their career path within an organisation,” said Shrader.

“So how many applicants do you have applying for a role within your company – if there are few applicants then that suggests that you don’t come across as a LGBT inclusive employer. If you have a large number of LGBT employees who are not making it in to senior leadership positions, despite having a large number in management positions, then that suggests that there are some barriers to their careers.

“That’s why the data is so important, because it highlights where the barriers are in the organisation and what kind of initiatives you need to put in place, where you need to focus efforts to be a more diverse and inclusive organisation.”

However, getting that data is easier said than done, with many employees still believing that it is of no business for their employer to know such personal information about them.  However, there is hope ahead in the form of the fresh blood entering the tech industry, with millennials much more comfortable in declaring who they are to their employers.

“With the millennials coming into the workforce now there is a real increased confidence in declaring sexual orientation and gender identity in the monitoring assessment. I think that’s great because it shows that the company is giving off the right message, but also shows that the people entering the workforce believe they can be themselves at work,” Shrader told CBR.

The tide may be changing, not only with millennials, but with initiatives like Digital Pride boosting awareness and taking LGBT issues global. What must be remembered is that in the grand scheme of things, progress is being made – which should be celebrated. Business leaders and companies like Fujitsu are becoming allies in the diversity fight, raising awareness and proving to businesses that a diverse workforce enhances agility, innovation, productivity, decision-making and customer relationships.

Businesses should take pride in their workforce – all of their workforce.
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