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Human Resources

Pride & Prejudice: The business case for LGBT inclusion

Sometimes it seems like we’re going backwards. According to The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Human Right & Democracy report [PDF] published last week, “78 countries criminalise homosexuality”. The death penalty is in operation in eight UN states. You might assume these states are in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, not in the West. And for the most part you’d be right. But last week the British Government issued new advice for LGBT travellers to the US, in light of new legislation passed in North Carolina and Mississippi. But while many argue the moral case for LGBT rights, what about the business case?

At the Economist’s Pride & Prejudice event last month, that was the topic for discussion. With a programme that spanned three continents – venues were in London, New York and Hong Kong – speakers included business leaders, politicians, LGBT advocates, and sports personalities. We spoke with Avanade CEO Adam Warby, about how Avanade came to be involved in the Pride & Prejudice event and why LGBT inclusion and diversity is so important for business.

 

Avanade has a strong history of workplace inclusion and diversity, can you tell us more about why and how you’re involved in the Economist Pride & Prejudice event?

Events like Pride & Prejudice give us an opportunity to learn from others and deepen our understanding of inclusion and engage in critical dialogues about the importance of diversity. This is a journey of learning for me and I think we should take this as an opportunity to learn from others, bringing new ideas back to Avanade to integrate into our workplace.

As the CEO of a global organisation with offices in over 23 countries and more than 28,000 digitally connected people around the world, I truly believe that diversity in business is an imperative that carries with it a huge responsibility and weight of ownership.

Avanade continues to see improvements in the percentage of diversity overall in our organisation, but there’s always room for improvement. Events like this enable us to listen, learn and ultimately help make our workplace (and the technology industry overall) more diverse and inclusive.

 

The event took place in London, Hong Kong and New York, and aimed to “advance the global discussion on LGBT diversity and inclusion, particularly by focusing on the economic and business costs of LGBT discrimination and the profitable opportunities that lie in overcoming it”. Why is this important, and why now?

It’s no secret that a diverse and inclusive workforce improves the bottom line. The American Sociological Institute, for example, showed that a 1% increase in gender and ethnic diversity produces a 3% increase in revenue.

In addition, new data from the world’s leading LGBT research and marketing consultancy, OutNow, estimates that the US economy could save $9 billion annually by better implementing diversity and inclusion policies for LGBT employees. In the UK, this figure is estimated to be about $1 billion per annum.

However, there’s much more to gain in embracing diversity, than just the financial benefits. I believe—and in fact one of our core values at Avanade states—that everyone counts.  Each person brings a different set of skills and perspectives to an organization. It is diversity—and a combination of those skills—that enables us to think creatively, innovate with purpose, build inclusive teams, and ultimately realise results for our clients and their customers in much more meaningful ways.

 

The Pride and Prejudice event had a number of other big-name sponsors besides Avanade, from tech companies like IBM, to LGBT organisations like Stonewall. But should companies be doing more to help LGBT professionals? What can they do?

I can’t speak for other companies, but I can say at Avanade that supporting LGBT employees is a priority. And equally important is creating an inclusive environment that allows individuals to bring their best self and their whole self to work. Since Avanade’s inception, our global policies, benefits and programs have been fully inclusive of LGBT employees.

In 2011, our first Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Avanade was the LGBT ERG which also includes allies. That group’s task is to set the stage for tackling a wide array of diversity issues and agendas at Avanade by bringing their perspective and experiences together. We want to ensure that we create open communities for LGBT employees and their allies where they feel valued, safe and respected. The group has grown to over 350 members from all around the world. Those members tell us that Avanade is doing well in its effort to create an inclusive environment, celebrating diversity and creating communities where each individual has a voice.

I know I can’t fix diversity issues on my own, and even as an organisation we are still on a journey of discovery about how to mature and evolve our diversity and inclusion efforts. We are learning from the best in the industry and looking at other leading organisations to create an inclusive workplace for all—and especially the LGBT community. We believe strongly in forging partnerships with third parties (Stonewall and Out&Equal as examples) to create and support a pipeline of diversity and to become a destination employer.

 

Why should the tech industry (specifically) care about LGBT rights?

Technology is a leveller and it also presents a huge opportunity to help people connect and create communities regardless of where they live. Homosexuality is still illegal in 76 countries. 76! In those 76 countries who you love can lead to legal cases.

By creating social communities for LGBT people and their allies, you are breaking down barriers and allowing people to connect with others around the world. It’s so important to not only create a safe space for employees to discuss things that are important to them, but also to build a network that extends outside their boarders.

The reality is that any business needs to ensure that its workplace provides a welcoming and inclusive environment to all of its employees and technology makes this possible.

 

A lot of the big tech companies release their diversity stats - should they be doing the same for LGBT+ stats?

One of the messages that was very clear at Pride & Prejudice was the need for the LGBT community to stand up and be counted. As an employer, we can only measure what we can see, so measuring things like gender is a standard that’s easy to accomplish in every company. However, measuring things that are “opt in” or, in other words, information employees are willing to share is little more difficult to do. We ask our employees every year if they feel they are treated fairly as individuals with dignity and respect. In addition, we want to know if they feel we’re committed to hiring and promoting people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations and religions. We hope that by asking these kinds of questions, we’re respecting our employees’ privacy, but are able to get a sense about how well we’re doing in building and nurturing an inclusive environment where everyone can bring their whole self to work.

Many of the speakers at the event who self-identified as part of the LGBT community were avid proponents of encouraging as many people as possible, who are part of the LGBT community, to stand up and be counted. By self-identifying with your employer, it allows companies like Avanade to give people a voice on critical issues and to look for ways to involve the right people in the important discussions.

 

In 2014, Tim Cook became the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to publicly identify as gay. What effect do you think this had on the community?

Tim Cook’s appointment has certainly been well-received by the LGBT community, by Apple, and the industry at-large. In my view, anytime our business leaders better reflect the diverse world we all live in, that’s a win.

I was just as pleased to see former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendt join Apple as the company’s Senior Vice President of Retail following Tim’s appointment. It’s great to see people earning leadership roles for their skills, strengths and unique perspectives. These appointments set an example for the industry to follow and illustrates a company’s commitment to diversity at all levels.

 

Should more LGBT+ professionals come out? Do you think we’re at a point yet where successful professionals can publicly come out without risking their reputations/careers?

That’s a very personal choice that comes down to each individual.

I know at Avanade we have worked hard to create an environment where members of the LGBT community feel they can be who they are—and be valued for the perspectives and experiences they bring to help our clients. We also are fortunate to have Sander van’t Noordende, Group Chief Executive, Products Operating Group at Accenture as a board member for Avanade. He is a leader within Accenture’s LGBT community and frequent speaker and commentator for Accenture on LGBT issues; recently ranked No. 10 on the Financial Times - OUTstanding leading LGBT Executives and Allies.

 

The tech industry has a bad reputation for workplace bullying. How much discrimination of LGBT+ professionals are you aware of? And do you think LGBT+ professionals are more at risk of workplace bullying?

When it comes to diversity and inclusion—and creating a welcoming environment where everyone counts—there is room for improvement in virtually any business in any industry. If there wasn’t room to improve—we wouldn’t be talking about it and engaging in a conversation about how we can create change and make progress.

I believe that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace for all employees—including those from the LGBT community—starts with ensuring that employees know what is expected.

Increasing diversity and respecting people from diverse backgrounds starts with a company’s own culture. We make it clear to our people that Avanade provides inclusive non-discrimination protection for LGBT employees regardless of their geographic location.

And while one of our documented core values is “we believe that everyone counts,” we know that merely declaring diversity a value doesn’t make it so. It has to be part and parcel of the work environment—and we all have to be held accountable for making it real.

 

Further reading:

InfoShot: Most LGBT friendly tech brands

InterTech: Taking pride in tech diversity

Meeting HER: The first lesbian community app

Netbiscuits CEO: I’m gay and this is why I’m being open about it

Tim Cook and the Inherent Decency of the Sector

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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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