It’s LGBT History Month, and there’s no better time to talk about equality in the workplace. Ensuring that your working environment provides the same opportunities to all is one of the main concerns of the HR department.

It's often not enough to just offer everyone the same opportunities. As noted in our previous piece on Google, women are much less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities than men, even if those opportunities are presented as open to everyone. This holds true for all sorts of minority groups, who are often all too aware of the discrimination they might face.

Up to 34% of UK-based LGBQT workers refuse to disclose their sexuality in the workplace, for fear of homophobic treatment, exclusion, or having opportunities taken away from them. Given that studies throughout Europe have shown that at least 20% of LGBT people have felt they faced discrimination at the job interview stage alone, it's unsurprising that so many would try to hide themselves at work.

Transgender individuals face even more discrimination, with up to 90% reporting experiencing mistreatment in their job. This explains why many choose to leave their current employers whilst undergoing transition.

Positive Action

Positive action during recruitment is one way in which HR can help counter some of the issues that minority groups such as LGBT people face. The Equality Act, which was enacted in the UK in April 2011, makes it lawful to choose a candidate from a minority background over an equally skilled candidate that is not.

It should be noted that doesn't mean hiring someone who is less skilled just to fill a quota - you wouldn't, for instance be able to give the job to an unqualified woman or person of colour just to improve your company's gender or race balance. That would be positive discrimination, which is unlawful.

There are various other ways that your business can support its existing LGBT workers. According to Stonewall, people perform better when they can be themselves. Stonewall has put together a benchmarking tool called the Workplace Equality Index, and using this can help the HR department understand exactly where their employment policies and practices excel or fall short, and how to deal with these shortcomings.

An example would be office banter that might seem harmless on the surface actually making LGBT workers feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Approximately one in ten have left their job because they felt their work environment was unwelcoming.

Who Does it Best?

Looking at some of the top companies on this index gives some great ideas for what an HR department can do to foster equality in the workplace. Barclays, which is listed as a star performer, have their own LGBT group called Barclays Spectrum, which helps to ensure that diversity and equality is inherent throughout the company.

Lloyds Banking Group, which is the number one company on the index for 2017, also have an LGBT colleague network called Rainbow. They were also the first UK-owned company to provide private medical benefits to people suffering from gender dysphoria. Even seemingly small details are covered: their colleague surveys offer multiple gender options to include those who identify as gender non-binary. They also offer an LGBT leadership programme, which can help LGBT individuals become more effective organisational role models.

This is important because visibility is important. Demonstrating that people from minority backgrounds can become successful in their chosen careers helps others from similar backgrounds feel empowered to be successful too. That doesn't necessarily mean marching in a Pride parade (though of course this is great too) – it can be as simple as being openly out at work.

The HR department can help with this by ensuring that everyone in the company is  educated on the matter, with recruitment processes, training, and communications that make the business's position clear.

Do you feel that there’s discrimination in the workplace against a group that you’re part of? What challenges do you face? How do you think businesses can create a more inclusive environment? Can you think of any companies that are getting it right? Share your ideas over on our Facebook page.