This week diversity is celebrated at Copenhagen Pride with conferences, debates, entertainment and a parade on Saturday. In Denmark we have good reasons to be proud about the victories we have achieved. And we have equally good reasons to continue to work for equality and the right to realise ourselves, and love the gender of our choice.
The perception of gender is a constantly shifting landscape. Over the past three years, Facebook UK has listed 71 different gender options to choose among depending on your gender identity. Statistics Denmark has also now registered 37 different family structures.
Reflections on gender identity and the diversity of gender perception were also spotlighted in January’s special issue of National Geographic, in which the magazine delved deeper into the cultural, social, biological and individual aspects of gender. The cover portrays seven people of different gender identities. One of the headlines is a strong statement from a transgender girl: “the best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend being a boy”.
Acceptance of people’s diverse experiences in terms of gender and sexual orientation seems to be growing. But similarly to all other gender equality issues, we need to constantly work for progress and rights – once achieved – can never be taken for granted.
Right now, homosexuality is a criminal offence in 72 countries and even punishable by death in eight countries. Since the spring a rising number of homosexuals in Chechnya have been kidnapped, tortured and some of them killed. Two weeks ago Donald Trump tweeted that he wants a ban on transgender people serving in the US military.
“If we are to ensure continued (and improved) equality, everybody needs to contribute – also in the labour market.”
In our own backyard, Anni Grimm, the Danish People’s Party’s group chairperson of Vejen city council, made derogatory comments about LGBT++* people in a newspaper calling them “deviants”. She echoes the opinion of those of the Danish imams who believe that homosexuality is a disease curable by going to the doctor. Comments of this kind set back developments and pull our society in a non-inclusive direction – and there is absolutely nothing good to say about this. If we are to ensure continued (and improved) equality, everybody needs to contribute – also in the labour market. In Denmark surveys show that half of LGBT++ people in the Danish workforce feel that they cannot be entirely themselves.
We need to smash glass closets and glass ceilings
IBM, which is one of the frontrunners in terms of LGBT++ inclusive corporate values, calls the energy that is lost when LGBT++ people cannot be open about their gender identity, sexual orientation or personal life “the cost of thinking twice”. This is the cost of the extra attention required; the extra burden of not feeling that you can freely share experiences from your personal life or the discriminating comments that hurt you personally without the people making them necessarily being aware of it. You may cover up and not tell your colleagues that you live, for example, in a homosexual relationship. Or you may decide to play down part of your identity at work.
As it is estimated that LGBT++ people make up about 10% of the population, a large share of the Danish workforce is stuck in what has – inspired by the ‘glass ceiling’ metaphor – been called a ‘glass closet‘, which is the term for the career-related barriers that specifically apply to LGBT++ people. No matter whether they are “out of the closet” or not.
But should managers and staff even think about their colleagues’ gender and sexuality? Generally speaking, the sexual orientation or gender identity of a colleague or customer should not matter. Moreover, it is widely feared that focusing on and launching initiatives for specific groups will label and categorise them. In an ideal world we would not need to think about this at all. All, so far, 71 gender identities and 37 family structures would exist on equal terms. And we would welcome new ones. But until we get there, we need to work on it. As long as authorities and media do not reflect the diversity and talent pool of the population, this need will persist. As long as surveys document that we deliberately or unintentionally discriminate against LGBT++ people, we need to work on making improvements.
“Exclusion, limitation and narrow-mindedness do not pay off. Supporting diversity is supporting the company as a whole.”
It is important to acknowledge that not everybody perceives the same reality. When we assume that gender identities do not matter or that our colleagues have the same sexual orientation as the majority, we deliberately or unintentionally contribute to a non-inclusive work environment. We need to become more aware of the specific challenges that LGBT++ people may encounter in their working life. But as always, we must also acknowledge the potential of diversity. We need to work to create changes; because it is the ethically right thing to do, because it is necessary and because – as it is always the case with diversity – it is the smartest thing to do. Exclusion, limitation and narrow-mindedness do not pay off. Supporting diversity is supporting the company as a whole.
LGBT++ inclusion increases productivity, creativity and profits
McKinsey’s “Diversity Matters” survey from 2015 clearly showed that the most diverse companies deliver a markedly better financial performance. This is also the case for companies that are clearly LGBT++ inclusive.
In 2013, the Catalyst conducted a survey based on 800 companies, which showed that companies with LGBT++-friendly policies increased their value, productivity and bottom-line results significantly. This was particularly the case for knowledge companies that need highly-skilled employees. Correspondingly, the survey also showed negative results for the same parameters if companies had suspended or scrapped their LGBT++ policies and initiatives.
In 2015, the comprehensive report Open for business was published, presenting collected results and evidence from a number of global companies, including Google, Barclays and Ernest & Young and clearly documenting a strong business case for LGBT++ inclusive cultures both for individuals, companies and societies.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Credit Suisse last year researched the effects of LGBT++ inclusion on 270 global companies that are known to successfully support and embrace LGBT++ employees. The research showed that over the past six years, the 270 companies had performed 3% points better annually than the Morgan Stanley Capital International ACWI index.
There are many good examples of companies that have addressed LGBT++ issues and worked on improvements. When including more perspectives the result is a greater understanding of markets and customers, which enhances competition. Merrill Lynch is a good example. The company realised that many LGBT++ people may face special challenges when buying real estate property. To meet these challenges, Merrill Lynch set up a team of ten advisers for the group and offered supplementary training for more than 250 financial advisers in order to improve its services for LGBT++ customers. As a result, this part of the business grew by more than USD 1.4bn over four years.
“Improved LGBT++ inclusion will generally help break down the limiting stereotypes that we all live with.”
Incidentally, it is important to bear in mind that the fruits of the investment to create a more inclusive workplace are not only enjoyed by the approximately 10% LGBT++ employees. A company with visible and thriving minorities will have a generally more tolerant and relaxed atmosphere, that will make all employees go to work with a collective breath of relief because nobody has to pretend. Improved LGBT++ inclusion will generally help break down the limiting stereotypes that we all live with.
Tomorrow we celebrate Copenhagen Pride. It is a pleasure to see so many companies supporting Pride, and showing employees and customers alike that they share the vision of everybody living in harmony with their gender identity and expressing their love freely and safely. At the same time, we can celebrate our work for improved inclusion in the safe knowledge that, at the end of this rainbow, there is an abundance of gold that diversity and inclusion will bring.
We hope that everybody will protect and support the freedom we have achieved in Denmark and continue to work to create the necessary improvements:
Have a good and colourful Pride week!
Last year the Confederation of Danish Industries and the Danish LGBT Business Network published a folder for companies interested in improving their environment for LGBT++ people, which describes best practice and offers good advice about LGBT++ inclusion. You can download the folder here.
*LGBT is an abbreviation standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Today, it has been expanded to the concept of LGBT++ in order to include the vast diversity of people with sexual orientations or gender identities other than cisheterosexual.