Diversity & Inclusion case studies

Case studies

Role model organisations: benchmarking LGBT equality in the UK workforce

UK case study, July 2015

UK charity Stonewall has an annual Workplace Equality Index that is widely considered the most robust benchmarking exercise in the country for measuring equality. We explore how they identify role model organisations that advance equality for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) people.

Stonewall has played an important role in advancing LGBT equality in the UK since it was founded by a small group of activists lobbying against section 28 of the Local Government Act – legislation designed to prevent the so-called 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools and to stigmatise LGBT people in the UK.

Stonewall’s major successes include helping achieve the equalisation of the age of consent, lifting the ban on LGBT people serving in the military, working closely with the government to make discrimination at work based on sexual orientation unlawful, securing legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt and the repeal of Section 28. More recently, Stonewall helped secure civil partnerships and then marriage equality in the UK.

In line with advancing LGBT equality in society, Stonewall actively helps organisations develop inclusive workplaces. We reviewed Stonewall’s publications and initiatives to understand their approach to LGBT equality measurement and progress in the workplace. This case study profiles;

  1. Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index
  2. How Stonewall assesses an inclusive workplace
  3. Identifying role model organisations and elevating them as mentors
  4. Adapting the index as the inclusivity conversation expands 
  5. Expansion to a Global Workplace equality Index. 

(1) Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index

The Workplace Equality Index, now in its twelfth year and expanding to include consideration of trans people from 2016, continues to increase its yearly number of participants from various industries throughout the UK. The 2015 Index for instance, attracted the highest number of participants to date with 397 organisations covering more than 13 million employees. It was designed to be both rigorous and challenging, and as Ruth Hunt, Stonewall Chief Executive described “[push] top performers to new heights while also providing a strategic framework for employers who are beginning to consider the business benefits of creating an inclusive workplace.” 

(2) How Stonewall assesses an inclusive workplace

The Index is open to any employer. Each entrant submits an application detailing their organisation’s performance against a set of best practice criteria accompanied by supporting evidence. The criteria explore the following ten areas of employment policy and practice:

  • Employee policy
  • Training
  • Employee network group
  • All-staff engagement
  • Career development
  • Line managers
  • Monitoring
  • Procurement
  • Community engagement
  • Additional work

Once submissions are made, every entry is first assessed by Stonewall’s Workplace team and then by policy experts to ensure best practices in the Top 100 Employers list.

To supplement the evidence provided by each entrant, Stonewall also seeks the direct anonymous feedback from the staff of entrants. The survey asks 17 short questions around key indicators of workplace culture and is currently worth five per cent of the total available marks each year.

The survey provides key insight from staff on their experiences working for their employer. The 2015 staff survey for example, found that many LGB people still lack the confidence to completely be ‘themselves’ at work (based on the response from 10,592 LGB staff responses). Just over half of the respondents (57 per cent) said that they were comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to all colleagues and even fewer (53 per cent) were comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to all managers and senior colleagues. The survey also found that respondents were least comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to customers, clients or service users.

(3) Identifying role model organisations and elevating them as mentors

From the results of the Workplace Equality Index, Stonewall compiles its Top 100 Employers list, which represents the best employers for LGB staff in the UK. As part of the list, there are additional award categories including Network Group of the Year, Senior Champion of the Year, Role Model of the Year, and Ally of the Year.

To take LGB workplace equality to the next level, Stonewall launched its Star Performers in 2015, which brings together the top-performing organisations that have been consistent in their commitment to workplace equality. That is, they ranked in the top ten of the Stonewall Top 100 Employers list at least three times in the last five years. 

Star Performers will no longer be ranked and instead work with Stonewall on pioneering initiatives that define best practice going forward. These Star Performers share their experiences and act as role models for other organisations. They also agreed to be involved in a number of challenges from launching global campaigns to revolutionising service delivery to help drive LGB equality.

Additionally, Star Performers actively mentor another employer to help them achieve a more LGB inclusive workplace culture. This will be done through regular contact between the organisations in order to develop strategies that help facilitate the transformation toward a better workplace culture.

(4) Adapting the index as the inclusivity conversation expands

In 2015, Stonewall received 50,070 responses from participating entrants’ staff making it one of the largest national employment surveys in the UK. To better understand the experiences of LGB staff with their heterosexual colleagues, the 2015 survey expanded for the first time to include heterosexual staff.

The 2016 index will include questions on trans inclusion for the first time to further promote best practices for all LGBT employees. In acknowledging the importance of trans equality, Stonewall has developed a three-year plan for the full integration of trans inclusion with the Workplace Equality Index in 2018. Under this plan, the first year (2016) will involve information gathering about what employers are already doing or plan to implement. This will assist Stonewall to map the current state of trans equality in the workplace. The second year will involve Stonewall recommending best practices in trans inclusion through releasing a workplace guide on supporting trans staff and assisting organisations with the implementation.

(5) Expansion to a Global Workplace Equality Index

Demands to provide a framework to promote sexual orientation equality globally led to Stonewall trialling a pilot Global Index between 2012 and 2014. In 2013 they introduced a Global Diversity Champions program, leading to the Global Workplace Equality Index in 2015.

The Global Workplace Equality Index presents a new and comprehensive approach that captures the different geographical spreads of organisations. In particular, the numerous socio-political contexts in which they are based. Given this, a direct comparison would not be fair and therefore the Global Workplace Equality Index does not rank organisations. Instead, organisations are assessed according to the work they do in each ‘zone’ of operation with each zone having a different set of assessment criteria.

In their 2015 results Stonewall classifies organisations into the following three zones:

-           Zone 1 includes countries where same-sex relationships are legal with clear national employment protections laws (e.g. EU and Canada). The criteria here look at how employers go above and beyond their legal requirement to not discriminate and to create a fully inclusive workplace.

-           Zone 2 includes countries where same-sex relationships are legal but there are unclear laws regarding workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation (e.g. South Korea). Here, the criteria explore how employers extend equal employment protections despite it not being legally required.

-           Zone 3 includes countries where same-sex relationships remain illegal (e.g. Singapore and India). The criteria look at how employers create an environment of dignity and respect for all staff through creative and legal means.

For organisations to qualify as a top global employer in 2015 they had to rank in the Top 100 of the Workplace Equality Index or be a Star Performer – thus raising the bar for what global best practice looks like for LGBT inclusion.

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Stonewall plays an important role in helping organisations develop inclusive workplaces for LGBT employees. Through its annual Workplace Equality Index and Global Workplace Equality Index, organisations are able to measure their performance and progress against rigorous measures. Some organisations have shown a consistent commitment to workplace equality and are now role models for others. For organisations that are beginning their journey to an inclusive workplace, Stonewall provides a strategic framework to follow.

To learn more about Stonewall, please contact William Taing or visit their website.

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