Suki Sandhu is one of the UK’s leading diversity specialists, Suki established Audeliss in 2011, a diversity-focused boutique executive search firm. Since its inception, 65% of senior appointments have been filled by women, LGBT+ or ethnic minority candidates. Suki is a huge advocate of diversity and true inclusion within any workplace, and HRD Connect wanted to take the opportunity to ask him some vital questions around issues that members of the LGBTQ+ communities face daily.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that face the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace?
To name a few…
I think the absence of out role models, these people show that you can succeed and reach the top as your authentic self.
Absence of senior sponsors – it can be difficult for minority community voices to be heard if they don’t have senior sponsors or champions actively fighting their corner.
Conscious or unconscious bias from team members or managers can seriously hinder progression opportunities for the LGBT+ community. Of course, everyone has biases, but if we don’t learn to manage them – particularly those which can be harmful – then it can be to the detriment of communities like LGBT+.
Lack of inclusive policies to support specific needs – e.g. parental leave for same sex couples, medical cover for transition related procedures. Companies need to review their policies regularly to ensure they are fair, equal and inclusive for all. Society has moved on – business must, too.
“Build yourself a safe network”
How would you advise a manager who is managing a non-binary individual?
First up, I’d advise them to be very honest and open to mistakes. If you’re unsure about what to say/what not to say, or how that person would like to be addressed – just ask. They would much rather be asked and help to educate you on what is right for them, rather than see you get it wrong, and risk offending them.
Simply being supportive yourself of the trans*/non-binary community is not enough – you need to actively role model this behaviour so that others follow suit. Check in with the individual regularly to see if their needs are being met, and ensure that you are calling out anything inappropriate. You need to ensure you’re a vocal, visible advocate – the LGBT+ community is only 6-10% of the population, we need allies!
What would you say to individuals who feel like they need to conceal their sexuality at work?
It is always the choice of the individual, but my advice really depends on the circumstances. If someone is a private person and simply doesn’t like discussing their personal life at work, then that is fine – it’s their choice. However, if someone is concealing their identity because they feel they won’t be accepted for who they are, then that’s a different matter. If you have genuine concerns that coming out at work could jeopardise your safety or career progression then I would strongly urge you to consider whether this is the kind of place you want to work.
“In the business world we are seeing a much greater focus on getting equality at senior levels”
However, if it’s more a case that you haven’t seen anyone else come out before – then that doesn’t mean it won’t be accepted. I would say start by speaking to someone/several people who you trust and build yourself a safe network. If you have several advocates or cheerleaders who you know have got your back, it’ll make the process of speaking to others a whole lot easier.
What do you think has been the biggest positive shift in the last 5 years towards true equality?
I think there are a few things. In society in general, we’ve seen a much greater focus on diversity and inclusion, and it genuinely feels like the world is waking up to these topics (better late than never!). Things like the increase in countries where same-sex marriage is legal show real progress, and we can only hope that this continues.
In the business world we are seeing a much greater focus on getting equality at senior levels – e.g. targets for ethnic minorities/women on boards, and we’re also seeing companies evaluate their policies to address gaps. Many companies have brought in equal maternity and paternity leave policies in order to put men and women on an equal playing field when it comes to taking time off to have children. It’s not widespread enough and it’s not the only solution – however, it’s a really promising step to take.
Can you cite any companies who are role modeling LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion in a positive way?
At OUTstanding – the membership initiative that we run through my company INvolve – we have 80 corporate member firms who have also shown their commitment to LGBT+ inclusion by seeking us out and becoming a member. Naturally, they are all at different stages on their inclusion journey, and of course there’s a variation by company size and location. We see a lot of really good work happening in financial services – which is great considering it’s often thought of as a stuffy, old-fashioned industry. Companies like Barclays, Aviva, Deutsche Bank and Virgin Money are doing great things across the whole diversity sphere. And the technology companies are very forward thinking too – particularly people like IBM, Amazon and LinkedIn.
What changes would you like to see in the coming years?
Where to begin! I’d like to see a greater number of companies looking at their policies and actively demonstrating their commitment to inclusion. I don’t just want them to pay lip service to this – I want to see them take action, even in situations where it’s not popular, or comes with financial risks. I’d also like to see diversity and inclusion become a focus in the sectors of work and society that we’ve so far struggled to reach – particularly sport. There are still huge problems with homophobia, sexism and racism in sports like football, and it would mark HUGE societal progress if these could be overcome.