February is LGBT History Month, which is an annual event intended to promote a diverse and inclusive modern society and to provide education and insight about the history of the gay rights movement and issues faced by the LGBT+ community.

Thankfully, in the popular words of Fatboy Slim “We’ve come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the bad”. The increasing levels of social acceptance of the LGBT+ community are far beyond what they used to be. While the timeframe is relatively short, it must be remembered that prior to 1967, it was still illegal for two consenting men to engage in any form of sexual activity. It took the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 to decriminalise homosexual acts between men over the age of 21 in private in England and Wales, but even then that legislation did not extend to Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. The age of consent was subsequently reduced to 18 in 1994, and then finally to 16 in 2000 in England, Wales and Scotland so as to provide for equal treatment.

From an employment perspective, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that employment laws regarding sexual orientation and gender identity began to evolve to where there are today. A detailed report can be found here.

LGBT History Month

The overall aim of LGBT History month is to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public. From an employment perspective, this can be done by:

  • Increasing the visibility of LGBT+ staff, their history, lives and their experiences in the workplace and the wider community (should they so choose);
  • Raising awareness and advancing education on matters affecting LGBT+ staff;
  • Ensuring workplaces are safe spaces for LGBT+ staff; and
  • Promoting the welfare of LGBT+ staff, ensuring that they are able to achieve their full potential, can contribute fully and lead fulfilled lives.

This year, the theme for LGBT History Month is peace, activism and reconciliation. With this in mind, ensuring the workplace is one where all staff are happy to come to work and are confident in being who they are, is fundamental to the success when promoting equal opportunity, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at work for all.

Moving forwards

Employers, and society, still have come a long way in terms recognising and appreciating diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Continuous improvement remains important and should form a part of an employer’s business plans. Diversity and inclusion should be recognised, celebrated and promoted, not just through February each year but as an ongoing focus.

In addition to the above, other best practice initiatives for employers include:

  • committing themselves to promote equal opportunities in employment, regardless of LGBT+ status (as well as age, disability, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief and sex);
  • having in place equal opportunities and LGBT+-supportive policies to ensure inclusion and the avoidance of discrimination, and that these policies apply to all stages of the ‘employment lifecycle’, including recruitment, pay and benefits, terms and conditions, promotion and the termination of employment;
  • fostering LGBT+-supportive workplace environments to ensure a more engaged workforce. Respect, acceptance and trust are fundamentally important here and within the employment relationship generally;
  • implementing diversity, culture and unconscious bias training, which will enable a more systematic and structured approaches to the sharing of knowledge and awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion;
  • establishing an LGBT+ employee network, allowing visibility and awareness;
  • providing access to knowledge banks, support mechanisms or confidential helplines
  • having in place effective grievance policies and procedures to deal with complaints of discrimination, harassment and/or victimisation where such matters arise. Employees should be able to feel confident that their complaint will be dealt with seriously and that the process will be undertaken in confidence where requested;
  • having an open and tolerant mind to the wide and diverse workforce available in society generally; failure to do so could result in missed opportunities to attract talent or the inability to retain good staff and also lead to a reduction in business opportunities;
  • making conscious effort to reassure staff of confidentiality of procedures and ensure that personal information is maintained in confidence. While some people are comfortable speaking about their LGBT+ status others are not;
  • considering the use of an equal opportunities monitoring questionnaire in recruitment as an annual review process. Some people see the inclusion of such monitoring as an indication of an employer’s positive attitude towards equal opportunities.

Such LGBT+-supportive steps assist in fostering a more engaged and productive workforce and employees having greater job satisfaction.

Employers are therefore encouraged to use February (but not only February) as a further stepping stone to promote and celebrate their diverse workforces and all of their existing LGBT+-supportive policies (and extend them wherever necessary). The aim is to properly raise awareness and combat any and all remaining prejudice in this area.

To mark LGBT History Month, Shoosmiths has changed its logo and also launched its own LGBT+ Staff Network.