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LGBTQ+ History Month: Why inclusivity matters

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 31 Jan 2023

With one in five LGBTQ+ people experiencing a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last year, it’s vital to fight against discrimination, says ICAEW President Julia Penny.

Imagine feeling as if you need to keep a part of yourself unknown to colleagues because you feel worried or threatened about how others might react. Or feeling that being honest about your sexual orientation might hold you back in your career or lead to you being pigeonholed.

As we celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, it is important for us to reflect on why diversity in all its forms is so important. This isn’t simply about doing what’s morally or ethically right, it’s also of huge strategic importance to ICAEW. 

Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or sexual identity is shocking and horrifying. Progress is undeniable but there is no room for complacency. According to Stonewall, one in five LGBTQ+ people have been the target of negative comments at work, over a third of LGTBQ+ people feel they need to hide who they are at work and one in five feel that being LGBTQ+ limits their job opportunities.

LGBTQ+ History Month is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, and celebrate the successes but also think about how much more needs to happen and what more we can do to make workplaces more inclusive.

We all have an identity and being able to bring that to work, regardless of background or protected characteristics, is important for people to feel comfortable. Authenticity is a linchpin for business success, and when people bring their authentic selves to work, they bring their best selves.

But what’s also true is that continuing to break down barriers isn’t something that will happen on its own. The good news is, we know the impact that sharing our stories and experiences has on building empathy and driving change.

What’s important is that people feel comfortable about having those conversations and that workplace environments are safe spaces where people feel empowered to talk about who they are as an individual. 

A lot of workplaces, particularly smaller ones, may not feel comfortable talking about some of these issues. People may be unsure as to whether it’s a safe place for them to be open about their sexuality, in a way that heterosexual colleagues may take for granted. LGBTQ+ allies may worry about inadvertently causing offence by the language they use. This is an education process.

There’s a commercial imperative to ensuring that members of the LGBTQ+ community do not feel marginalised. If we are serious about attracting and retaining talent, it is essential that ours is an inclusive profession. 

Our student numbers are strong and continuing to grow and yet member firms tell us that they would have recruited more in the last year, had they been able to. Competition to bring in the brightest and best is fierce, and retaining that talent will be largely down to ability to foster inclusive workplace practices and environments.

An extensive piece of ICAEW D&I research on the needs of UK ACA minority group students confirmed that students that are part of the LGBTQ+ community highly value inclusive workplaces. Students reported that they consider going ‘back in the closet’ unless they find a very LGBTQ+ supportive company culture. Senior role models that are part of the LGBTQ+ community, where possible, have a vital role to play by openly sharing their experiences, which can help students feel more comfortable to be their authentic selves, and show that there is a space for diverse talent to progress within organisations.

Our ethical values stipulate that we are courteous and considerate of other people – whether that’s clients or employees. Feeling that we’ve been treated with courtesy and consideration is what makes us value our workplace. It should also ensure that everyone is accepted and can give their best in an open and honest environment.

  • Advice on how to move towards conscious inclusion, covering topics such as communication and community development, will be provided in the Behind the Scenes: Awareness and Allyship webinar on 23 February. It is hosted by ICAEW’s Diversity and Inclusion Community, together with not-for-profit organisation The Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion. 

Join ICAEW's Diversity Community

Online resources and information to equip individuals and organisations with the tools to make the accountancy profession more inclusive. This Community provides information and best practice guidance on the different areas of diversity, helping to educate, support and raise awareness.

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