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LGBT networks in accountancy

With the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) History Month kicking off on Monday, economia looked at what accountancy firms in the UK are doing to support their LGBT community.

In this year’s Stonewall’s work equality index, two of the Big Four firms came in the top 100 LGBT employers list.

Increasingly employers are realising that promoting an inclusive and diverse workplace can bring business advantages, by attracting new clients and new talent into their businesses.

According to Stonewall’s research, people perform better when they can be themselves at work, while diversity among staff leads to a more productive, positive and creative workplace environment.

We decided to look at the steps the accountancy profession and some of its biggest employers are taking to promote LGBT inclusivity.

PwC

When Helen Campbell joined PwC five years ago, the existing LGBT network was more like a social group for men, which did not appeal to a large percentage of people in the firm, including herself.

In January 2011, Campbell and a couple of other people created GLEE (gay, lesbian and everyone else), aiming to create an inclusive and business-focused network.

This year, PwC came at 11st place at the Stonewall’s 100 Top 100 employers list this year, the best result within the profession.

Over the last four years, the committee has worked hard to set up its strategy. It has focused in targeting people from different parts of the firm that have never been involved in diversity agenda before, asking partners from different teams to sponsor diversity events.

PwC has seen business benefits since launching the network, by strengthening relationships with clients and starting new ones. In fact, Campbell said the firm has won additional work and extra revenues thanks to the network.

"We know we are developing stronger relationships with our clients because we are very open, vocal and passionate about diversity," said Campbell.

The committee now has 60 members nationwide and eight in the steering committee. Campbell is part of the steering committee, in addition to her role as senior manager at the consulting team.

GLEE has grown regionally, especially in Manchester. PwC launched the network in Northern Ireland in March last year and in Wales and this year.

PwC helped Ireland set up its network recently, and is also helping other countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Canada.

Campbell said the feedback during the last four years has been positive, "We have received comments from people who said they joined PwC because of GLEE so that is great from a recruitment perspective."

KPMG

The Big Four firm was ranked 44th place in Stonewall's index, climbing over 100 places in the past year. KPMG runs one of the oldest LGBT networks in the sector and promotes diversity and equality not just within its staff but also externally.

Its LGBT network, Breathe, was set up 13 years ago as being a place where LGBT colleagues would gather to socialise. The network has evolved to become much more visible across the entire firm, working with the HR department and the diversity and inclusion team.

David Pearson, associate director in corporate finance and the chair of the network, said Breathe positions the firm as an inclusive place to work and to do business with.

The network positions the firm as an inclusive place to work and to do business with

“The network focuses not just in meeting the needs of colleagues internally but also focusing in outreaching the community, clients and potential recruits wanting to work at KPMG,” he explained.

Breathe has regional representatives across the Midlands, Scotland and the South, in a bid to ensure everyone across the business gets the same support and treatment.

Ashley Thomas, KPMG diversity and inclusion advisor, said, “Setting diversity targets to improve representation around race, gender, sexual orientation and disability widens the pool of perspectives on offer in order to face our clients’ most complex problems.

“This means equipping leaders with the knowledge to build more diverse teams and create an environment that allows people to exchange ideas, bring their unique perspective and challenge the status quo.”

The diversity and inclusion team, supported by committed leadership at board level, works together with 15 diversity networks and key sponsors across the firm to lead this change.

In 2014, KPMG unveiled its inclusive leadership strategy, setting out publically their target for increasing representation of diverse groups in senior levels.

“Internally, that gave up the accountability to say to the entire firm we are supporting the diversity and equality agenda,” Pearson said.

EY

EY’s global LGBT community network Unity has done an impressive amount of work since its launch back in 1995. Unity has now more than 1,700 members across 90 locations worldwide and works along other EY’s professional networks.

The Big Four firm was named a “star performer” in the Stonewall list thanks to its work with the charity on pioneering initiatives and launching global campaigns.

EY has also been mentoring and helping clients both in the public and in the private sector to develop their own inclusive workplaces, including fellow accountancy firm BDO.

Liz Bingham, a talent partner in EY’s people advisory services team, has been working at the firm for the last 30 years and has been vocal about equality and diversity throughout her career.

The partner was named for the third consecutive year in 2015 one of the leading 100 LGBT executives. She has also been named one of the Top 50 most inspiring LGBT role models by OUTstanding thanks to her inclusion work.

However, Bingham only joined the people advisory services team last month, and her work focuses in helping external people and businesses setting up their networks.

The firm has seen business benefits by advising clients and mentoring and helping them to develop their own inclusive workplaces.

Moreover, EY is one of the founding members of OUTstanding, a professional network for LGBT executives and their allies, together with Barclays, BP and Google.

“We became part of the network because their work is pretty much in line with what we are trying to achieve as a business,” Bingham said.

The firm also sponsors mentoring projects, where senior partners and staff mentor their junior staff in a bid to show them that difference is a competitive advantage that should be celebrated.

EY’s global vice chair at the public policy department, Beth Brooke-Marciniak, has also been named one of the leading 100 LGBT executives at OUTstanding, for her efforts to sponsor the firm’s diversity and inclusiveness team, which serves 212,000 people in 155 countries.

She chaired the executive panel to set up Unity globally and has been included eight times in the Forbes lists as one of the world’s 100 most powerful women.

Deloitte

The firm has ten diversity networks open to all Deloitte staff, including its LGBT network Globe, which has been running for almost nine years and has now 1,000 members in 18 offices across the UK and Switzerland.

Emily Sendall, co-chair of GLOBE, said at first, many people were hesitant about being openly LGBT at work because of the stereotypes surrounding LGBT people and culture.

In 2014, Deloitte launched its LGBT allies programme, where people at all levels were able to openly declare their support for LGBT colleagues and the wider community.

Sendall said some allies have personal reasons for wanting to show their support to the LGBT community - having gay or trans family members or friends - but many simply wish to take the opportunity to express their support for diversity and inclusion.

Many of Deloitte’s network events involve clients and other stakeholders, either as co-hosts, speakers, or as guests.

It’s great to be able to share best practice in this area, and to develop better relationships with our clients based on shared values

Sendall said she often has conversations with clients about the steps the firm is taking in the LGBT area, and how that compares with the decisions they are making around LGBT inclusion.

“It’s great to be able to share best practice in this area, and to develop better relationships with our clients based on shared values,” she said.

She believes LGBT diversity can be seen as an indicator of how well companies are doing across the full spectrum of diversity.

“Companies that have a strong, inclusive culture that encourages people to be themselves, will allow less visible and historically stigmatised populations such as the LGBT community to feel comfortable being open and authentic within that organization,” she argued.

Recently, Deloitte has begun doing more LGBT-focused advisory work and receives more requests for informal conversations with their existing clients.

The network is run by a steering committee of eight client-facing Deloitte employees and undertakes several events in collaboration with client LGBT networks.

It also has global connections with Deloitte LGBT networks and individuals in several countries such as Canada, US, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, France, Russia and Germany.

BDO

At BDO, the idea of setting up diversity networks came from its own staff, after a survey into ways of improving work satisfaction.

Michelle Carroll, a partner at the firm and the head of Blend, its current LGBT network, said the firm’s values have been the core of the business for 12 years and influence every decision made. The values – mutual support and respect – drove the creation of Blend.

Following the semi-annual survey in 2014, the firm created three networks - for women, Islamic and LGBT.

Today, Blend has been running for 18 months and includes not only gay members but anyone who wants to show support.

BDO will soon promote events across its three networks, with the first one being a panel with transgender women - bringing together the women's network and Blend.

EY is mentoring BDO, which Carroll said to be very helpful as the Big Four firm is "a few years ahead" in terms of LGBT work.

"It's really good to see that kind of comradely relationship in professional services where you get support from another group."

However, Carroll said that setting up an LGBT network from scratch faced some issues.

"When you are dealing with an invisible group, you can't ask them certain questions until they trust you. You need to build that trust first.

“Why do we want the information and why they should share it with us are the first questions that come to their mind,” she said.

The next step in Blend's evolution is to start working externally as “at the moment, our work seems to be relatively internally-focused as part of the building trust process and as we evolve further we will start engaging more with clients”.

RSM

RSM is part of Stonewall’s Diversity Champion Programme, and has seen business benefits since working closely with the charity.

The firm is currently participating in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index, and it will shortly be rolling out across its offices its own diversity and inclusion champion initiative, which will address LGBT issues, encouraging debates and ideas.

The mid-sized firm said it is committed to creating a culture in which diversity and equality of opportunity are actively promoted and in which unlawful discrimination is not tolerated.

RSM does not have an official network but it has equality and diversity policies covering not only its employees but also its clients and suppliers.

Penrose Fosse, RSM’s general counsel and chair of its diversity steering group said, “The firm believes that the achievement of excellence can only be attained through recognising the value of every individual and aims to create an environment that allows all to achieve their full potential.

“We are continually investigating ways in which diversity issues, including LGBT issues, can be further promoted in all areas of the business, and working to invigorate discussion about LGBT topics.

“This helps us to recruit and retain talent, drive better business performance, and, most importantly, enrich the lives of individuals.”

Following the firm’s rebrand last year which saw more than 110 member firms globally adopt the name RSM, its anti-discrimination and diversity policies have been absorbed into the fabric of the new business, and the same messages and policies available to all.

Grant Thornton

Grant Thornton does not have an official LGBT network, but offers an active internal online platform where it encourages open and challenging conversations about issues affecting its staff and the business.

The online platform also allows individuals who wish to connect with others or establish affinity groups on any topic. The firm has also recently launched shared enterprise in its business.

Norman Pickavance, partner and leader in brand, culture and sustainability, said, “As a firm, we are actively seeking to attract people with all sorts of backgrounds, interests and perspective as we know that broad and collaborative thinking is the best way to achieve great results.

“One key area of focus for us is to continue to build coaching skills in all our people, so they are better able to understand how their own experience and values impact the way they work even better with a broad range of people.”

The mid-sized firm said it has spent a lot of time exploring how best to approach the area of diversity and inclusion in its broadest sense.

Jessica Fino

Originally published in Economia, January 2016.