Although the UK's lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) employees have been legally protected from discrimination in the workplace since 2003, many LGB job seekers still think carefully when deciding how "out" they should be when applying for a job. Although blatant discrimination against staff is illegal, more subtle forms of discrimination at the job application or interview stage are difficult to prove. In today's highly competitive jobs market it's not surprising that when I questioned some of my friends and colleagues, many said they felt that mentioning one's sexuality was simply not relevant. In other words, why risk mentioning something about your personal life when doing so may result in you being discounted as a candidate?
Of course, sexuality should be irrelevant, and this reluctance is understandable, but being comfortable in one's workplace and not living in fear of being treated unfairly are extremely relevant – both to an individual's happiness and performance in their job.
LGB equal rights charity Stonewall launched its Workplace Equality Index eight years ago, ranking the UK's leading employees with regard to their LGB-friendly credentials. Not only is the WEI an incentive for organisations to examine and improve upon their workplace policies regarding LGB staff, but it also serves as an increasingly useful tool for LGB graduates and other job seekers.
Why increasingly so? Well, the WEI has come a long way in those eight years. When first launched in 2005, it attracted just 130 entries. Although it's almost unimaginable now, six of the subsequent top 100 organisations asked to be listed anonymously, which slightly defeats the purpose of the exercise: "Yes, we're a LGB-friendly company – just don't tell anyone, please!"
For the 2012 WEI, Stonewall reports that it had 363 entries, representing a vast range of employers. More impressively, it's significantly revamped its assessment criteria. It already looked in detail at employee policies, staff training and development and LGB community engagement, but for 2012 has revised its criteria to take into account changes in the law, such as the Equality Act in 2010, and to further challenge organisations to show evidence of the positive outcomes of their diversity initiatives. It has examined whether companies have LGB staff in high positions within their organisation and whether such staff act as mentors to those lower down. It also surveyed LGB employees about their companies – not just the HR departments – with some 7,500 individuals participating.
By any measure, the Index is an exhaustively researched piece of work, undoubtedly acknowledging those who go the extra mile to ensure they foster a welcoming atmosphere for LGB staff, and, in a wider sense, realise the importance of embracing a diverse workforce.
Critics may point out that the list is not comprehensive. It does favour larger companies over smaller businesses, and it only takes into account those organisations that put themselves forward to be included, and the vast majority of those that do so are already part of Stonewall's Diversity Champions Programme (DCP) – the charity's good practice employers' forum on sexual orientation.
As a gay man myself, I have been fortunate enough not to have to worry about being open about my sexuality at work. I have worked primarily within the UK's gay press and would probably find it a culture shock to work anywhere that my sexual orientation was regarded as either a negative or a novelty. Reading Stonewall's 2012 Workplace Equality Index, and in particular its stringent assessment criteria, I am stuck by just how keen many large organisations are now to embrace their entire workforce, regardless of sexual orientation, and how determined some are to back up their policies with hard evidence. Certainly, faced with a choice between those organisations listed within the Workplace Equality Index or Diversity Champions Programme, and those that are not, I know which ones I would favour when seeking future employment. Especially if I was just starting out and wanting to join a company where my sexual orientation would not act as a barrier to advancement or promotion. If other LGB jobseekers and graduates do the same, how long will it take for certain multi-nationals to realise what they are missing out on by not demonstrating their inclusiveness?
View the full Workplace Equality Index here
David Hudson is editor of Out In The City magazine.
In partnernship with Guardian Careers, originally published: http://careers.guardian.co.uk/careers-blog/ranking-lgb-friendly-employers