News Stories · Leadership

LGBT and inclusion: too many companies are diverse without being inclusive

June 2020
 - IMD Business School

In this Open Office Hour session, participants’ frustrations were palpable as they discussed inclusion and LGBTQ+ rights in their organizations at OWP liVe.

“I don’t know what to do. I got pushback from managers who didn’t want to talk about this,” one said in the session hosted by Ina Toegel, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change, and Misiek Jan Piskorski, Professor of Strategy and Innovation.

“Things look a bit neutral in my firm. It’s not an unspoken topic; we hear demands from the LGBTQ+ community from time to time. But how do we raise awareness and bring it to the forefront?” asked another.

A third person said: “I find it insulting to see LGBTQ+ as a business case, but maybe that’s necessary to push this thing through in our firms.”

Allies are the starting point

Allies play a key role in furthering the inclusion and diversity cause in organizations, said Toegel.

“To move the needle, we need some key powerful voices in this group. It’s not enough to just have the LGBTQ+ executives speak up,” she said, while cautioning about engaging with resistors. “Energies should be invested instead in bringing the fence sitters into the group of allies.”

Putting up the flag during pride month is a good start, but there is plenty more to do. There’s the need to convince the company to make a stand on diversity and inclusion on social media, the question of how to include those individuals in the discussion who haven’t come out about their sexuality and fear HR making a note on their records about it, and there’s the work of engaging in policy changes.

But securing allies is far from the whole solution, because even they may not fully “get it”.

Take the straight, white woman who asks: “Is this really an issue?” She may be an ally and a well-wisher and want to help, but cannot see the entirety of the problem. How, then, can we educate these people?

Inclusion is often unwittingly sidelined

Toegel highlighted how diversity and inclusion are two different concepts and said companies went through different phases of grasping this.

“Some only talk about diversity. We really need to get them to the next step, which is inclusion. You can see diversity as being invited to the party and inclusion as being invited to dance,” she said.

One participant flagged how confusion over the terms themselves might be stopping progress, saying, “In my company, I feel there is confusion over how much inclusion you need to be a diverse organization.”

Party lines bring their complications

Even if a company takes a stance on matters of diversity and inclusion, upset can continue, participants agreed.

Take the American school of thought. It sets goals which in itself can upset people who ask, “Why should you have to defend the case in the first place?” That said, sometimes it is the best approach to getting the outcome you seek.

The so-called bulldozer perspective has really worked, said Professor Toegel. But people struggle with this as there could be a perception that what you are saying is being policed.

The point was raised that it’s much easier to tick a box on gender than it is to do so on LGBTQ+. How do you even start the conversation when gender is a 50:50 split in the world and LBGTQ+ represents some 5-7%?

Another reason these conversations don’t get started in organizations is the bracket the topic is being put into. Perhaps by making it into a broader civil rights or human rights issue – a moral case, even – certain organizations will find it harder to shirk the fact that they are, in fact, sitting on the wrong side of history.