What needs to change to improve LGBT+ rights in the City of London?

Monday, 12 November 2018 11:02 GMT

Iain Anderson becomes a Freeman of the City of London. Picture courtesy of Iain Anderson

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We need to deepen the link between what the City of London actually does and the LGBT+ community

Iain Anderson is co-founder and executive chairman of Cicero Group, a communications and market research agency

I have just become a Freeman of the City of London. I’m still rather pinching myself. Standing in the ancient Guildhall last month, I swore an oath of allegiance to one of Britain’s most venerable institutions.

Standing alongside me was my partner. We embraced during the ceremony in celebration. We felt the warmth and support of all our friends and supporters as well as the very institution in which we stood. On the walk back to my office in the heart of the City of London, I reflected how much has changed since I first started working here a quarter of a century ago.

Job done, then? What’s the problem for LGBT+ people in the City or indeed in anyone in corporate life?

I am very privileged. My route to acceptance in business has been based on a wide number of factors. Probably the most important has been the desire to create my own business and set my own boundaries – a common trait for many LGBT+ people. Defy the norms and create your own work space has been my mantra.

But it has only been in the past three to four years where I feel I have been able to make a difference. It is hardly surprising. Most graduates feel the need to go back into the closet when they start work for the first time. The numbers for the finance sector with a pre-determined “alpha” stereotype are even worse.

I remember the feeling of isolation in the early 1990s – which is not so long ago. There were no role models in finance. Back then there were no initiatives to grab onto. Now it seems most financial institutions want to wrap themselves in the rainbow flag around the time of Pride. But that’s just it – we now need to go way beyond signposting once a year and create deep and meaningful change.

So a word of congratulations is due to leaders such as Suki Sandhu and his work with OUTstanding, the membership organisation for global businesses. His LGBT+ role models initiative is dominated by the financial sector. But the really powerful part of this work is the associated mentoring, which I believe is hugely empowering. As a young person in work in the ‘90s, I had no one to support me. Mentoring, I believe, can be transformative.

Second, we need to deepen the link between what the City actually does and the LGBT+ community. What does that mean in practical terms? I’m not talking here about corporate social responsibility; I’m talking about economic power.

So currently, I am working with the Open for Business programme to create the “Investor Initiative”. Its core purpose is to allow major financial firms to benchmark their own LGBT+ activities as well as the companies in which they invest on behalf of our pension funds. We are set to launch in the first half of 2019. This will be a tangible way for institutions to step up to the plate and use their economic power in support of LGBT+ equality.

Finally, we need to change mindsets. I was with a major City headhunter earlier this year who asked me “Why do you do all this diversity stuff? I don’t see the point. Isn’t that the job of the schools?” Such Jurassic views are still around and they remain the gatekeepers to faster change. In that regard, I am delighted that Nicky Morgan MP, the chair of the Treasury Select Committee, now asks every City chief executive who comes in front of her parliamentary committee what they are doing to drive change.

Working with City institutions for decades, I did not feel able to even discuss a diverse workplace. Now I can. But we now need to move the debate onto the economic case for change. There’s much more to do.

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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