* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.The resilience gay and transgender people have to develop to survive is a valuable asset to businesses
Vinay Kapoor is head of diversity and inclusion for BNP Paribas in the Americas
When I began my career in the late 1990s, LGBT+ diversity wasn’t talked about in business. There was anti-gay and transgender legislation across the world, including in many western countries. Still, the first person I came out to was my manager at the time. With his support I was fully able to embrace who I was, which gave me the confidence I needed to propel my career. But this wasn’t the norm for many LGBT+ people at the time.
Years later, LGBT+ diversity is no longer a nice to have for big businesses, but a must have. Aside from the well-versed generic business case for diversity – attracting and retaining talent, being able to relate to our clients more effectively in addition to the moral case for diversity and inclusion – there are two exceptional reasons why organisations should embrace LGBT+ diversity in particular.
As the skills required for modern leadership evolve, it must be recognised that gay and trans people already have a particularly important leadership skill: resilience. This resilience has come from centuries of being marginalised, persecuted, and criminalised. Today, there is still anti-LGBT+ legislation on the statute books in 78 countries and gay and trans people can legally be killed in eight of them, simply for whom they love.
They are required to not only withstand physical violence, but also anti-LGBT+ rhetoric in the workplace, the media and in homes around the globe. This has led many gay and trans people to develop a unique brand of strength in order to survive.
As more companies and countries recognise that love is love and that gay marriage is just marriage, there is increasing awareness that this resilience is highly valuable. Many LGBT+ people have been forced to develop resilience, as a protective cloak. But in many large businesses gay and trans staff are being encouraged to throw off this negativity and recognise that that same skillset can help move them into senior leadership positions.
I truly believe that this is unique to the LGBT+ community and makes us even more successful in the workplace.
Companies also need LGBT+ diversity as it offers a gateway for other conversations around gender, race and ethnicity. This is partly because LGBT+ diversity is unlike many others in that it is invisible – you cannot tell a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity simply by looking at them.
When colleagues become aware of and more sensitive to each other’s differences, both the visible and the less immediately obvious, it allows them to become more collaborative and open-minded.
Ultimately, I encourage straight people to partner with the LGBT+ community. This concept of “ally-ship” creates wider mindsets within companies, where staff can become allies for other forms of diversity. For example, men can become allies to women, and we can all unite against racism.
LGBT+ allies will help to create an inclusive workforce – and to change the fact that over 40 percent of gay and trans workers remain closeted at work in the US. The effectiveness of ally-ship can be seen in a recent study conducted by the Center of Talent Innovation, a research firm based in New York. Almost a quarter of the LGBT+ workers surveyed attributed their decision to come out professionally to a strong network of allies.
Please consider sharing these ideas within your company.
There is so much more good than bad that can come from the inclusion of LGBT+ talent. Companies can build a welcoming and positive environment, and we all can agree that will make for better, more productive places to work.
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