3 ways businesses can improve recruitment & retention of LGBTQ+ people

Although it’s been well documented that diverse workforces are more likely to achieve scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements, the LGBTQ+ community is approximately 20% less represented in STEM fields than would be expected.

So, what can businesses do to improve diversity within their workforce? We spoke to Rina Madlani, Sales Director & Inclusion & Diversity Lead at Accenture Technology, Dr Alfredo Carpineti, Italian astrophysicist, science journalist, social activist and Chairman of ‘Pride in STEM’, and Dr Craig Poku, Postdoctoral researcher in Climate Sciences at the University of Leeds about their thoughts on what businesses can put into action to tackle the issue head-on.

Here are the top three (please note that all views expressed by the panelists are their own and not representative of the organisations they are associated with):

Awareness & training

Recruitment and retention of LGBTQ+ people in STEM require two things: awareness of issues that affect the community, and commitment at an individual and organisational level to tackle discrimination.

But, how can businesses ensure that their employees are aware of these issues? Relevant training delivered by diverse groups of LGBTQ+ individuals, which focuses on the intersectional identities within the community. This type of training may also be delivered via a mentorship programme; getting mentored by members of the LGBTQ+ community is key to educating people about the issues they face on a day-to-day basis. However, as Dr Carpineti points out, LGBTQ+ people need to be given a platform in the first place in order to help educate others:

‘To have role models, you need to have people that can put their hands up. […] Yes, I have been a trailblazer, but it’s because of my privilege; it’s because I am in an organisation and in a senior position where I can make some waves.’

To ensure that the whole organisation actively gets involved, people in senior positions should be the first to show interest in getting educated about the LGBTQ+ community, as well as being proactive in sharing statements of support with the business.

Acknowledgement

Businesses can show their commitment by ensuring that the working environment itself is an inclusive space to work in. For example, does your office currently have gender-neutral bathrooms for employees to use? Are important dates, such as local Pride events and LGBTQ+ History Month, acknowledged? Remember, not everyone is ‘out’ or comfortable in sharing their identity with colleagues, so it’s vital that resources and support are proactively shared and clearly available for everyone to see.

In addition to your working environment, consider the language that your organisation uses to ensure that it’s LGBTQ+ inclusive by highlighting personal pronouns and using gender-neutral terms, such as ‘crewed’ instead of ‘manned’. At an individual level, you can also encourage your employees to include pronouns in their email signatures to show support.

By showing a strong sense of genuine allyship, Rina argues that you can also expect to continue attracting strong LGBTQ+ professionals to your business:

‘If you have people in the business that have got active sponsorship to be progressed […], and they feel really good about being in that organisation, well guess what? They will know people similar to themselves that they would be happy to refer into the business because they want to make sure that those they know in their network can thrive as much as they are.’

Understanding

Are there people in your business who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community? If so, reach out to them to understand what you’re doing well and what could use some improvement.

For example, it’s essential that your business has strong anti-harassment policies in place to attract and retain members of historically excluded and underrepresented groups. It’s key that these policies and the process surrounding them is transparent that perpetrators of harassing behaviours are held accountable. However, in order to be effective, it needs to go beyond policies and reach an individual level as well, as Dr Poku points out:

‘As individuals, we all have a platform. […] Let’s say, for example, you see one of your colleagues being harassed […] and you go, “hold on, that’s not cool”. It doesn’t need to be a big song and dance, you just need to ask them “what made you say that?”, or “why did you think that was appropriate?”, or something like that, and that can start a discussion.’

In addition to understanding within your business, it’s also worth considering the bigger picture. Did you know? 72 jurisdictions currently criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity. And 15 jurisdictions criminalise gender identity and/or expression of transgender people. In many countries, the LGBTQ+ community unfortunately isn’t protected in the eyes of the law and, therefore, organisations that require travel abroad in such countries should provide their LGBTQ+ employees with policies and support should they voluntarily choose to go there.

Whilst It’s clear that there is still a lot to be done to improve the recruitment and retention of LGBTQ+ people in STEM businesses, the points above should provide you with some simple starting points to get your organisation on track. To hear more from our expert panel, click below:

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