Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees have never had it so good at work. Or so you might think to look at the companies marching in London Pride and the growing number of LGBT+ networks and role models.
But it’s only half the story. Being LGBT in the workplace can still be unacceptably tough, especially if it’s your first job.
Getting your first job is always nerve-wracking; that's ok if you’re worried about a phone interview or assessment days, but not when it comes to whether being LGBT+ will affect your chances. It's a concern that could affect a growing number of potential employees. A YouGov poll in 2015 found that one in two young people aged 18-24 don’t identify as straight.
In 2018 it may seem inconceivable that being out in the workplace is something a 21-year-old worries about. In reality, it’s not difficult to see why they’re worried. Firstly, if you’re ambitious, you might look for a business leader role model, but here’s the first problem: LGBT people are underrepresented at executive levels. According to Out Leadership, 0.3 percent of Fortune 500 directors are openly LGBT+. If board membership mirrored estimates of the UK’s LGBT+ population, you’d expect twenty times as many openly LGBT+ directors.
Even if you’re not interested in the C-suite, there are more immediate ways you might think being LGBT+ will count against you. We often hear of young people worrying about whether an interviewer might be biased towards them if their identity came up. If they get the job, they're still concerned about how to come out at work. So it’s no surprise that over six in ten graduates go back into the closet in their first job.
This problem is what Just Like Us is working with City firms to solve. We want to create a talent pipeline of empowered LGBT+ young people from school to the workplace. To do this, we work with businesses to train LGBT+ students to champion LGBT+ equality in schools.
So far, we've launched training partnerships with Baker McKenzie, BlackRock, BLP and OC&C Strategy Consultants. Our partners maximise our impact in schools because our volunteers learn to deliver high impact talks and workshops. Our volunteers work closely with “real” LGBT+ employees, boosting their confidence and busting myths about being openly out in the workplace
We’ve also launched a Mentoring Scheme supported by Travers Smith. We connect graduating volunteers with senior professionals from a wide range of careers. This one-to-one mentoring programme provides the support LGBT+ young people often lack as they start their career.
This model is a win-win for everyone. Firms develop the identity and role of their LGBT+ network by enabling members to engage in meaningful social action. They also build links to ambitious and driven students - ideal graduate employees - from an underrepresented minority.
Our volunteers receive the mentoring, support and skills they need to shine at interview and bring their whole selves to their career. They also, as one ambassador described, “start to 'own' [their] past experiences", taking ownership of their LGBT+ identity for the first time.
Last, but not least, is the social impact of our work. Our partners have already trained over one hundred role models who have worked with 20,000 kids in schools. They've made LGBT+ young people, as one lesbian school pupil said, “feel immeasurably better about themselves”.
Businesses can do so much to improve the lives of their LGBT+ employees and ensure that the next generation of LGBT+ young people can be themselves and at their best from the classroom to their career.
This article originally appeared in CityAM.