To mark LGBTQ+ History Month 2024, the University of Edinburgh Business School’s Equality and Diversity Committee organised a panel discussion exploring inclusivity in the workplace.
Person's hands holding paper rainbow coloured heart

The panel comprised Kevin Guyan, UEBS Chancellor’s Fellow; Cecilia Righini, Creative Business person of the Year 2023 and one of our LGBT+ Scholars. Together, their insights shed light on the improvements needed for employers and HR practitioners to develop a more inclusive workplace.

Yen, an MSc. Human Resource Management student who attended the event, shares her key takeaways.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) has been an important topic in the workplace for several decades. So as a student on the MSc Human Resource Management programme, I was excited to meet and hear stories from the three panellists at the recent ‘LGBTQ+ Identities at Work’ event. Being activists for more inclusive workplaces within their own careers, the panellists revealed several challenges that LGBTQ+ employees might encounter in their professions and suggested critical changes that companies should consider implementing to remove such obstacles.

Encouraging structural transformation

Although the panellists come from three different professional backgrounds, they had all experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace. For example, being asked not to use “they/them” pronouns at work. They explained that microaggressions like these were common across different professions, even within the creative industries which is often presumed to be more accepting and open-minded. In other conservative sectors, these behaviours can leave individuals feeling obliged to sacrifice parts of their identity to fit into the business culture.

To prevent experiences like this from happening, Kevin said that an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace requires strategic and systemic change from the top-down. He said that only when the executives consider EDI as one of their key values - paying attention to the root causes and funding relevant projects to resolve them - can LGBTQ+ employees feel safe to express themselves fully at work.

Connecting LGBTQ+ peers and allies

The panellists agreed that LGBTQ+ staff should have access to safe spaces at work to advocate for themselves and their peers. That could be through regular meetings or internal workshops where they can express their views and highlight why behaviours such as misusing pronouns is harmful. They also recognised the importance of having allies in the workforce to take the meaning of ‘inclusive business’ beyond a slogan and show unity between people of all walks of life. Providing appropriate channels for communication at work helps to empower LGBTQ+ voices and forms a community which leads others to recognise discrimination within their teams in a more timely and effective manner.

Upskilling the workforce

A lack of awareness or exposure to people within the LGBTQ+ community means outsiders are sometimes unaware of what would be considered inappropriate or offensive. But, as Kevin pointed out, this is not an acceptable excuse in the modern workplace. Employers must design activities and learning opportunities to broaden their staff’s knowledge and promote equity and inclusion at work. While corporate Learning and Development programmes typically focus on hard skills, soft skills, and required Equality Act training, employers should be taking extra steps to train their staff on respectful language and behaviours to support their LGBTQ+ colleagues.

Cecilia expanded on this, explaining that the need for understanding across all employees is essential. They said that when people experience discrimination, the first point of contact is HR: if the HR representative is not educated in inclusive practices or points the issue back towards an offending manager, the issue cannot be resolved. Employers must therefore provide compulsory training for their staff to dispel discrimination within their teams and protect LGBTQ+ individuals.

My reflections

The panellists’ insights at the ‘LGBTQ+ Identities at Work’ event has significantly broadened my knowledge on how HR professionals should advise, design, and implement EDI initiatives into a working environment. To develop an equitable and inclusive workplace for everyone, more action needs to be taken to remove outdated stigma against the LGBTQ+ community. While discussions in class with professors and lecturers provide us with theories and academic findings on the topic, events like this allow us to understand EDI from a different angle - from those it affects directly. I look forward to attending more events from the University's Equality and Diversity Committee in future.