Elliot Vaughn, a Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), is head of BCG’s LGBT network in Europe (Pride@BCG) and will be taking over global leadership of the network in 2019.
Elliot leads BCG’s partnerships with the likes of EurOut and Open for Business and he recently launched the LGBT charity GiveOut, which won Breakthrough Charity of the Year in the 2018 Third Sector Awards.
He recently talked to us about the importance of LGBT inclusion, and what employers can do to make LGBT employees feel more comfortable at work.
What made you want to go into this role?
I’m in the fortunate position to be able to influence change within BCG and other organisations, and I’m passionate about the case for LGBT inclusion in the workplace and society more broadly. It is an incredibly fulfilling thing to be able to benefit others, especially for those who are starting out in their careers.
It’s also frankly an incredibly important value for us as a global partnership – diversity is one of our foundation values. So there is this strong belief in respect for the individual in our culture which runs deeply through our work – from how we run internal project team meetings through to our work building a global LGBT network.
What is BCG doing to make LGBT members feel more included?
This year we celebrated 20 years of our global LGBT network. One thing we’ve realised is this is not just about recruiting people into the organisation, it’s about helping feel included at every step of their time with BCG. This includes recruitment, but also how we onboard, develop and mentor LGBT+ staff.
Worryingly, we have found that a lot of new consultants will default into going back into the closet, especially with clients. Across the LGBT+ spectrum, it matters a lot that our staff know that BCG has their back and that they can feel fully comfortable at work and with clients.
Beyond that, we work at making sure BCG does the right thing at key ‘moments of truth’ – for example as they build a family, or need to claim on health insurance, or request flexible working – all the things that come up in people’s lives.
We’re also putting an increasing focus on LBT visibility, as lesbians, bi people and trans people are less well represented in our global network.
From our external research we know that staff are much less likely to think about moving roles when they know their company is committed to diversity and inclusion. So as well as helping our staff to work in a truly inclusive environment we absolutely see it as a win-win if it translates through to greater commitment to BCG.
Have you noticed any changes through these processes?
Especially in the UK there is increasing comfort in the work environment for LGBT people. I think there’s this combination of visible signs of feeling welcomed and something is shifting in the business culture that is supporting that. We conduct an annual staff survey for all our staff but also a separate one for LGBT staff where we can compare the different cohorts, and encouragingly we are hearing that they are increasingly comfortable being themselves at work.
However, there is still work to do. In fact, our recent external research on this topic in our Out@Work Barometer [which was reported on by HRD Connect] found that while 80% of young LGBT talent say they would be ready to come out at work, only 50% are acting on that.
What are the biggest challenges of LGBT members in the workplace, and what are the challenges that come along with making them feel more included
There’s definitely anxiety that some people carry around within them not knowing how they will be judged if they choose to reveal their sexual orientation or preferred gender expression in the workplace. It’s a choice between whether to cover up that information or to share it.
It might seem strange to some people but it’s actually something it seems we can all have empathy with – there’s some fascinating research in the US which found that 50% of straight white men say they are covering up an important aspect of their identity in the workplace. This could be things like their educational background, their family situation, hair, health, age – you name it.
So, in a sense, the challenge for our LGBT+ staff is to feel able to make those daily decisions about whether or not to uncover themselves knowing that BCG will support them either way. That’s not a one-off thing that can be accomplished by sending round a memo – if only! Our people are making daily choices and so the challenge and opportunity is to help them feel supported through their work life.
What can other companies do to make LGBT members feel more included and comfortable?
The first thing to say is that inclusion really does matter. Our Out@Work Barometer research showed that an inclusive environment is in the top three criteria that young LGBT people have when choosing which company to work for, and in the UK, they rank this even higher than salary.
Improving D&I in the workplace is not easy. Typically it needs a shift in organisational culture which can take years, rather than months. One thing we’ve found is that approaches need to be adaptive – the needs of individuals change over time, and as society changes, so too will the needs of the workforce.
Personally, I think personalised mentoring and sponsorship programmes are valuable for LGBT staff, enabling tailored coaching plus helping directly build connectivity and inclusion in the organisation. There also needs to be visible signs that commitment to LGBT inclusion is real and so visible efforts such as ally programmes and Pride events can be powerful ways to show that and promote a more open dialogue. Whatever steps your organisation decides to take, make sure they are visible and communicated widely and often, internally and externally.