Why does the LGBT+ community still face the push for acceptance? Why do so many people think discrimination doesn’t exist in big cities? Belton Flournoy looks back at his career in business and writes that business leaders must be proactive and take an active interest in increasing diversity and noticing when it is not present. He says that the first step in driving change is not to focus on the need but on the benefits of diversity.
Do you really care about LGBTQ+? No, I am really asking you this question.
I have been thinking a lot about this recently. Why is there not more change? Why does our community still face the push for acceptance? Why do so many people say, “these problems do not exist in my big city of London or New York, this is a problem for a smaller community”? Why are people starting to say, “I support the LBG, but unsure about the T”?
The reason, I suppose, comes from the fact that it does not directly impact the majority. To become an ally, you need to have a trigger that causes you to feel empathy for the community you are supporting. This might come naturally, or this may come as a result of a situation or friend/family member coming out to you—starting your journey of enhanced understanding.
As someone without children, I truly do not care about movie ratings. I judge a movie based on the trailer, and decide if it is something I would like to see. I see movie ratings as a nice to have, not a requirement. On the other hand, someone who has children requires this to act as a guide to understand the types of shows that might (or might not) be appropriate to show their children. Parents would argue, “movie ratings are required, and definitely not optional”. Given this, I understand the need for ratings and am glad they are there, but if I found a movie with no rating, I would not think “why is this missing?”
Executives today can sometimes fall into the same bucket.
They understand diversity is important, however when diversity does not exist, they may not proactively think or ask the right questions. At the start of my career, when I walked into an office (not room) and was the only black person at the entire client site, I would notice. When everyone else entered the workplace, it was business as usual. When I see an executive leadership team’s photo, I always look for gender and racial diversity first, followed by the names, titles and descriptions—yet, I am confident that others look and sometimes do not even notice the lack of diversity. I have been invited to speak on panel discussions, and when I notice that there are no women on the panel, I tend to call out being on a ‘manel’ at the first opportunity.
We should not have to be the ones to notice this. We need the C-suite, business leaders, and managers to take an active interest in not only increasing diversity, but also being proactive about noticing.
It makes me truly sad when I am the one to have to call out a diversity issue. While the response from others might be extremely positive, with CEOs, HR leaders and companies willing to drive meaningful change, the trigger is still someone noticing there is an issue—which is something we need more business leaders doing—questioning, “Are we doing enough ourselves?”, rather than only responding to HR driven activities.
How can we get people to care?
The first step in driving change is not to focus on the ‘need for diversity’, but to focus on the ‘benefits of diversity’ and the “why is this important?” The need for diversity is similar to saying we “need to have movie ratings.” It makes sense as a comment but will not truly change someone’s mind.
I am proud to be an Advisory Board Member for LSE’s Inclusion Initiative (TII), which started the Diversity and Productivity from Education to Work (DaPEW) project, delivered in collaboration with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). This collaboration sees TII carrying out research to better understand the relationship between diversity, inclusion and productivity in the UK, and provides new insights into the barriers to under-represented groups reaching their full productive potential. The power of this research is used to quantify the benefits of diversity, to move us away from simply stating “it is a good thing to do” and move towards “this helps to make our people more productive, and our company more profitable”.
Another organisation driving change is TLC Lions—a company that inspires change through emotion. The founder, Gian Power, lost his father to murder, which impacted his mental health in the workplace. He has since gone on to create a company that realises a powerful way to drive change is to get leaders to connect with “ordinary people, with extraordinary stories” helping corporates better connect with the “why” inclusive cultures are important. So, to answer the question, we can get people to care by appealing to their emotion, or by showing the impact to increased productivity.
Why is this important?
For those who are passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we firmly believe that more diverse teams generate a high level of output. For others, they see this as a trend they “feel the need to support,” rather than a passionate business opportunity for growth.
In a world of competing priorities, back-to-back Teams meetings, and issues at home, many cite the lack of time as a reason why they are unable to focus on these “nice to haves” and instead need to invest their highly limited time in addressing critical business issues, technology, and sales. What many are starting to learn is the correlation between happy teams and productivity/output.
When I was able to move past the “my sexuality has nothing to do with my work,” and progress to being my authentic self, I started to deepen the relationships I had, as it became more personal. Similar to someone making a comment about their children, my sexuality is a core part of who I am, and when I let it empower me in the workplace, rather than hiding it away, my productivity shot through the roof. I can only hope more people feel this way.
A McKinsey report indicated that while 80% of senior leaders reported being “out” with most colleagues, just 32% of junior employees said they same. Leaders need to ask themselves if they live in a world of the 80% – meaning they engage with the top of the organisation who actively values diversity and are more unaware of various issues that may exist at lower levels of the organisation. Many HR and DEI leaders also live in this space, frequently engaging with the C-suite on initiatives to better drive diversity. The problem: many junior employees are staying ‘inside the closet’ because of the layers that exist between the leadership teams and the newer employees. We need to make sure our feelings of success in our organisations are not limited to those at the top.
In closing, I challenge all readers to think about their reasons for wanting to become an inclusive leader. Are you doing it because you see it as a good thing that others genuinely care about? Or do you actively look at situations and advocate for change when you see ‘groups of conformity’ or ‘areas of exclusion’ because you actively care about it?
At the end of the day, the goal is for me to want movie ratings to exist, because I understand the impact on society and children if they do not exist, not simply to see them as a good thing for some.
This is diversity. It is not just good for some; it is good for the entire organisations—and the organisations its bottom line.
- This blog post represents the views of its author(s), not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
- Featured image by Teddy O on Unsplash
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Belton on behalf of @TLC Lions it’s been a pleasure getting to know you, sharing your story with our clients and leaving a lasting legacy that inspires change -not because they have to but because they want to after hearing your lived experience and the ‘so what’ answer.
Thank you for all you do, your blog above and example of rating on Movies is such a simple but straightforward way to understand how being a By Stander is no longer an option for business.