With Pride season in full swing around the world, is it fair to ask if sexuality and/or gender identity is being left behind in the wider diversity debate across the UK retail sector?
It’s no secret that businesses stand to benefit immensely when they engage with diverse communities and make their workplaces more inclusive and equitable.
In recent years, there have been marked improvements in the representation of women, disabled or culturally and linguistically diverse people in the boardroom and in senior decision-making positions of UK retailers. But what about the representation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans or gender diverse people?
The Workplace Equality Index, compiled by advocacy and charity group Stonewall UK, has become the country’s official bench marking tool used to identify the top 100 LGBT-friendly employers. In 2016 and 2017, only two retailers made that list: Asda and the Co-op.
Stonewall’s retail account manager Matthew Moore told the Retail Gazette that while many other retailers take part in the index, the standard to be listed in the top 100 improves every year, making it increasingly competitive to earn a spot.
However, he acknowledged LGBT retail staff were underrepresented at senior management tiers, and that many studies have shown that diverse leadership improves business performance.
LOOKING AT THE RAINBOW BURGERS AND THE RAINBOW SHOES, WE CAN SEE RETAILERS WANT TO LOOK INCLUSIVE. BUT ARE THESE CAMPAIGNS ENOUGH?
“LGBT representation is an important part of that, and we know LGBT women face a ‘double glazed glass ceiling’ when it comes to moving up the ladder,” Moore said.
“This also applies to LGBT people of colour or LGBT people with disabilities.
“Therefore, it is important that employers take positive action to open up opportunities to LGBT talent through unconscious bias training for decision makers, training for recruiters and an active analysis of their employee data to ensure that they are removing any potential barriers to success.”
Samantha Silva, the division manager at retail recruitment specialists Quest Search & Selection, said having senior retail executives genuinely champion diversity was equally important.
“Retailers that support diversity in the workplace stand to benefit hugely,” she told Retail Gazette.
“However this is not just saying it and having a paragraph as part of a CSR or staff handbook, it’s about creating a sense of empowerment among employees and secondly, by setting an industry standard that can pave the way for change.”
Silva also expressed surprise that retailers were not well-represented in the Workplace Equality Index.
“Though there would be a number of reasons why companies may not participate in the index, [it] is the benchmark of large companies and their metrics are a good starting point,” she said.
“So with the number of retailers in the FTSE 100 you still feel there should be a higher representation of retailers on here.”
Silva highlights the work of Tesco’s John Dickinson, who has influenced worldwide change within the Big 4 retailer for LGBT-related issues and furthers the company’s active involvement in the LGBT community.
She also credited Christopher Bailey, who became the first openly gay chief executive of a FTSE 100 company when he took the helm of iconic British retailer Burberry in May 2014.
Both Moore and Silva believe that while taking part in annual Pride parades is a great thing for retailers to do – as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, Amazon and many others have done so – it should go beyond that.
Adrien Gaubert, the co-founder and chief executive of LGBT business network myGwork, highlighted the trap of retailers marketing their business to look inclusive to customers or clients, but not their own workforce.
“Looking at the rainbow burgers and the rainbow shoes, we can see retailers want to look inclusive,” he told Retail Gazette.
“But are these campaigns enough? For some of them, it is just a marketing tool and they do not align their recruitment efforts with their sales strategy.
“Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace environment that reflects the values they want to transmit to their customers is crucial if retailers want to give a truly positive image of themselves.”
IT IS IMPORTANT THAT EMPLOYERS TAKE POSITIVE ACTION TO OPEN UP OPPORTUNITIES TO LGBT TALENT
Indeed, of the 16 retailers that took part in the 2016 Workplace Equality Index, less than half had anti-discrimination policies that addressed bullying and harassment based on someone’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, only 31 per cent of those 16 retailers trained staff on basic equality legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010, which includes the provision of goods and services to LGBT people.
Moore said while it was a legal obligation for retailers to ensure employees are not discriminated against, the law can only go so far.
“It’s easy to forget that employment protection and same-sex parental rights only came into effect in the last 20 years,” he said.
“Therefore it’s really important to make it explicitly clear in the policy that your organisation is inclusive of all staff, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In a piece published in Retail Gazette last year, Stonewall group manager Vicky Constance said training for all staff, especially managers, to know how to support diverse teams was key to enshrining internal inclusive policies and so LGBT staff members can feel safe to be themselves in the workplace everyday.
“Training for managers is key: getting them to use the right language, understand the issues and be empowered to challenge inappropriate behaviour all lend itself to a culture where diversity is celebrated and inclusion means your teams work together better because of their differences – not in spite of them,” she said.
“Leadership of the store manager is crucial to success, but so often store managers say they know banter goes too far and they aren’t equipped to challenge it.
“For example, machinery is ‘gay’ when it breaks, staff play the guessing game when they can’t be sure of a customer’s gender, and security guards still aren’t sure whether they can respond to customers who complain about the two men who are holding hands while doing their weekly shop.”
MAKE IT EXPLICITLY CLEAR IN THE POLICY THAT YOUR ORGANISATION IS INCLUSIVE OF ALL STAFF, REGARDLESS OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION OR GENDER IDENTITY
Silva and Gaubert agree that the rising visibility of internal LGBT social networks in retail organisations – such as John Lewis’ Pride in Partnership group, Co-op’s Respect group, Out at Tesco, Amazon’s aptly-named Glamazon group, and many others – also play a part in making a retail workplace more LGBT inclusive.
Moore said that while the UK retail industry has come a long way in the past two decades to improve the experiences of LGBT staff and customers, “challenges still persist”.
“For example, trans customers are still faced with binary options in changing rooms and facilities and staff can still be the subject of unchecked banter in their workplaces because of being LGBT,” he said.
He adds that the Co-Op and Asda consistently make the top 100 of the Workplace Equality Index because they demonstrate commitment to LGBT inclusion by ensuring senior leaders keep LGBT issues on the agenda, voices of LGBT staff are heard and their products and services are LGBT inclusive.
“More retailers need to make this a priority in order to see results,” he said.