Time to effect corporate change for LGBT+ employees

by Bob Annibale | Citi
Monday, 4 February 2019 11:50 GMT

People walk through the Canary Wharf financial district of London, Britain, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

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We must confront the narrow perception that conformity is the route to success

Bob Annibale is global director of inclusive finance and community development at Citi

As a gay and “out” married executive who has spent more than three decades working in a global financial firm, holding regional and global positions in Athens, Bahrain, Nairobi, London and New York, my career developed across a span of time, workplaces and societies that have changed significantly for the LGBT+ community, for the better in some countries, yet still very challenging in others.

Stonewall data for the UK indicates that in 2018, 35 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees have hidden they are LGBT+ at work because they are afraid of discrimination. This rises to 58 percent for younger workers aged 18-24, many returning to the closet when they begin their careers. 

One in five LGBT+ staff has been the target of negative comments from colleagues. Nineteen percent of black, Asian and minority ethnic gay and trans staff and 16 percent of LGBT+ employees with a disability, report being denied jobs or promotions because of their identity.

These statistics are a stark reminder that even in a country such as the UK, with legal protections, for many LGBT+ employees and other under-represented groups there is still much to be addressed – beyond the law – to creating safe, diverse and inclusive workplaces.

In the earlier years of my career, there were no diversity employee networks or out senior role models for those of us who were LGBT+, and few if any for others such as women, people of colour, and other groups who were often less represented in finance.

Today there are many more such employee networks and corporate commitments to achieving meaningful diversity in an inclusive workplace and, as in my institution, this is leading to meaningful changes, deeper employee engagement and tangible goals and targets.

The most committed employers are evolving corporate policies and practices and are openly addressing issues such as expanded benefits and mobility, pay equity and achieving more diversity across all levels of management.

Where existing or proposed legislation restrict an LGBT+ individual’s ability to be out without fear of recrimination, where political, employment, housing or other civil rights are denied, when barriers to employees progressing in their careers exist, corporations are increasingly taking public positions.

Increasingly, it is encouraging to see how colleagues are participating across employee networks, expressing their many identities. We all have complex, rich and multiple identities and it is the intersectionality between those dimensions that defines us.

LGBT+ employees are also women, parents, veterans, black and ethnic minorities. Our families and friends are more diverse and few of us want to be labelled narrowly. Allies too are participating in multiple employee networks and are critical to bringing other perspectives and as fellow advocates for progressive change.

We should confront any behaviour that reinforces the perception that conformity is the route to success, as this has driven too many graduates, for example, back into the closet and led women and people of colour to often avoid careers in some professions. Conformity strips employees and institutions of the richness of the mosaic of talent, skills, experiences and diverse views, needed to succeed organisationally and as businesses.

I have lived the challenges and we are still early on this journey, yet I am optimistic when hearing the multitude of languages spoken and the many nationalities of colleagues, the increasing number of women, LGBT+, black and ethnic minority colleagues recruited and promoted, and initiatives led jointly by our Pride, parents, disabilities or veterans employee networks.