Crystel Robbins Rynne, COO and Employee Experience Advocate at HR software solutions provider HRLocker, on how employers in Ireland can move beyond superficial support toward true LGBTQ+ workplace allyship and inclusivity
June was Pride Month, and as is becoming the norm, businesses across Ireland and the world shouted their LGBTQ+ solidarity from the rooftops. Yet, as soon as the calendar turned to July, the multicoloured flags were packed away. Corporate logos awash with rainbows for 30 days reverted to their usual muted tones. And the many shoutouts to being ‘proud sponsors’ of Pride events all but disappeared.
The visible outpouring of support – once considered an essential part of the fight for equality – has taken a distinctly colourless, dark turn. Decried by LGBTQ+ organisations as nothing more than an insidious marketing strategy, corporations stand accused of appropriation and performative allyship– known as rainbow-washing.
At best, businesses are cashing in on the sentiment of loyal LGBTQ+ consumers– and who can blame them? Two-thirds remain faithful to brands they believe support the community even when less sympathetic competitors offer lower prices or greater convenience. At worst, they’re enthusiastically waving the Pride flag whilst engaging in damaging anti-LGBTQ+ activities. For instance, nine of the biggest, supposedly, most alliegent corporations in America each gave about $1 million to anti-gay conservative politicians in the 2016 election cycle.
You might wonder how this relates to workplaces in pro-LGBTQ+ Ireland. After all, we were the first to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. Well, despite the fact discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender, family life, and civil status is against the law with hefty legal and financial penalties, under a range of statutes like the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, Irish employers are falling short when it comes to more than just performative allyship.
Last year, a comprehensive review revealed 63% of workers in Ireland think their employer talks more about equity and inclusion than takes action. Put simply, when it comes to equality and fairness for their LGBTQ+ staff, Irish businesses are talking the LGBTQ+ talk but not walking the inclusive walk. But, to be fair, achieving a truly diverse and inclusive workplace is a challenging feat.
Simply ticking boxes and meeting quotas isn’t enough. A deep-rooted commitment to understanding and eradicating social barriers that prevent LGBTQ+ individuals and groups from fully participating and thriving in the workplace is needed—a commitment backed by the appropriate resources and implemented effectively, which is where Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) comes in. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) recommends starting with a seven-step framework.
Policy – Step one is to create a DEI policy that sets out the values and principles to which the workplace is committed. This is the foundation for all other policy, practice, and behavioural standards. Expectations and responsibilities for achieving equal and fair recruitment opportunities, working conditions, career progression, pay, promotion and reasonable accommodation of diversity must be included and communicated.
Leveraging relationships with LGBTQ+ organisations can help. Many, like LGBT Ireland, provide education and advocacy support to workplaces looking to develop effective DEI-positive statements that include and support all LGBTQ+ employees.
Training – The second step is to provide equality and human rights training that enables staff to understand and achieve these standards. Training should go beyond basic unconscious bias and awareness programs to promote pro-LGBTQ+ equality attitudes and behaviours.
It should bolster staff knowledge about their rights and responsibilities under equality legislation and build skills so they know how to appropriately respond to discrimination or harassment, including how to seek redress.
Responsibility – To ensure compliance with DEI policies and standards, IHREC recommends that the third step is assigning overall responsibility for enterprise-wide equality and human rights to an individual diversity officer, or a collective drawn from various functions across the organisation.
Diversity officers and committees should collaborate with and oversee all departments and functions to ensure compliance with equality and human rights laws. They can promote consistency in inclusion initiatives by reviewing policies and practices for potential biases, discrimination, and exclusion.
Roadmap – Step four is producing an equality and human rights roadmap that clearly lays out DEI objectives and the actions needed to fulfil these objectives so ensuring commitments and standards are enacted practically. Impacts must be measurable with concrete targets that are both evidence-based and auditable.
Reviewing your current policies and procedures is helpful for determining your current position and planning your path forward. Examining the level of LGBTQ+ representation is another way to assess your DEI efforts’ effectiveness and see where improvements are needed.
Impact assessment – Carried out on policies and plans at the design stage, impact assessments ensure compliance with internal and legislative DEI standards. Testing for negative impacts on LGBTQ+ staff and correcting or mitigating potential detrimental outcomes both takes account of diversity and advances equality.
A key consideration is ensuring LGBTQ+ employees receive the same or equivalent conditions and benefits as those in sex-assigned heterosexual partnerships such as parental leave, family insurance, or time off for dependents.
Monitor – Step six concerns data collection. Within the parameters of data protection legislation, organisations should collect and analyse information about their inclusion and treatment of LGBTQ+ people to ensure fair access and provision of equitable employment conditions.
Employers can gather meaningful insights by promoting disclosure through HR tools like universal Reasonable Accommodation Passports or gathering anonymised feedback through surveys.
Participation – Including LGBTQ+ people in the above planning, implementation and assessment steps is essential. Organisations should then maximise opportunities for employee involvement. Cultivating DEI champions or LGBTQ+ spokespeople can help to ensure a range of voices are listened to and acted upon.
This not only promotes representation, but it also means diverse perspectives and lived experiences are informing each step of the framework, making it fit for purpose. Listening to those at risk of experiencing LGBTQ+-based discrimination and clearly communicating a response also increases transparency and openness, both of which are vital components of an inclusive workplace.
Meaningful LGBTQ+ diversity, equity and inclusion is an ongoing process. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and it certainly isn’t achievable overnight. But, as multiple studies have shown, there is an obvious business case. A strong DEI culture results in higher-quality work, greater team satisfaction, and financial outperformance.
Promoting and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion is a no-brainer. It is fundamental to good people management, a core business function, and essential for tackling wider social inequalities. If organisations want to avoid the rainbow-washing label, they must proactively build and embed equality and human rights into their culture.
For more information, you can read HRLocker’s latest whitepaper, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
HRLocker is a cloud-based HR software service that digitally transforms people management and recruitment. HRLocker’s SaaS solution makes the management of office-based, remote, and distributive workforces possible and describes itself as a Deliberately Developmental Organisation (DDO) with adult development at its heart.