OPINION: How to choose a truly inclusive workplace

by Jules Pierce-Ferguson | Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Wednesday, 31 July 2019 08:00 GMT

A man walks up some newly decorated staircase at Canary Wharf in London, Britain, July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Carefully research a company’s diversity and inclusion policies and ask questions during the interview stage

Jules Pierce-Ferguson is international procurement executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and also sits on the bank’s LGBT executive forum

Pride in London this year was lauded by organisers as the biggest and most diverse parade to date.

But the exuberance of this year’s event offered a stark contrast to my own experience coming out during the start of my career.

Prior to joining Bank of America Merrill Lynch, I fulfilled a childhood dream of joining the military, but it came to an abrupt end when I was dismissed, purely because of my sexuality.

From that day onwards, I vowed never to lose a job I loved for the same reason. So, in the workplace my girlfriend “Dawn” became “Dave”, and I deferred to heteronormative language for fear of the repercussions of being outed.

It was only after a year when a work friend gently told me my colleagues had known my secret all along that I decided not to waste any more time concealing my identity.

Now, I’m lucky to be thriving in a workplace where diversity is promoted and celebrated. But this isn’t the same for everybody.

It is clear that this increased visibility is still not translating to the community’s experience, with recent research from Stonewall revealing that more than a third of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff hide their identity at work for fear of discrimination.

But, when the rainbow flags come down, how do we distinguish between marketing and genuine corporate values?

There are positive indicators to look out for when choosing your employer:

  • Look to third parties such as Stonewall that endorse a company’s credentials outside Pride promotion.
  • Always carefully research a company’s diversity and inclusion policies. Can you see clear strategies and tactics put in place throughout the year to support a fully inclusive workplace?
  • Pay close attention to family and leave policies, pensions and health insurance, etc.
  • Look at a company’s treatment of other communities. This can be a sign of an organisation’s wider inclusion practices and these – though not explicit – may be positive indicators of how each demographic is supported.
  • Are company policies and networks endorsed by senior leadership? For example, I’m a co-executive chair of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s LGBT+ Pride Employee Network for EMEA, which has more than 2,000 members. At first, I was hesitant about stepping into the role, but after seeing others’ anxiety due to fears of being accepted, it made me feel like I had to speak up.
  • Ask questions during the interview stage. Remember you’re interviewing your employers as much as they’re interviewing you. Outside of pledges, ask if there are any other initiatives and networks that promote diversity holistically throughout the business.
  • Ask and look for what a company is doing to engage employees who don’t identify as LGBT+. Our global Ally Programme for example, encourages employees from all backgrounds to support an inclusive workplace.

When I compare my experiences now to those of the young woman who was kicked out of the military for being gay, it is staggering just how much things have moved on. But we’ve still got a long way to go. 

A workplace should be one in which all employees can fulfil their potential and a company is strengthened by the diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of the many individuals who work here.

Pride isn’t just a parade, it’s something I live every day. It’s about accepting and celebrating who I am and what I stand for, free from judgement and inequality and I am so proud to work for a company that truly values me simply for being me.