By Mark Latchford, Pride in Diversity.
Over the last decade, employers across Australia, have made enormous strides in progressing workplace inclusion initiatives focused on their LGBTI talent. This includes those in the private sector as well those in all levels of government and irrespective of organisational size. However, one of the great challenges for organisation is how to ensure that such positive steps are reaching ALL their employees, irrespective of their distance from head office.
The marriage equality debate in Australia highlighted divergent views on equality across the nation, with some, albeit a minority, of more remote communities showing less progressive or inclusive views. The recent 2018 Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) survey also highlighted the challenges faced away from the major metropolitan areas. For example:
Metropolitan employees believe LGBTI inclusion initiatives are more important than those further afield (84% vs 78%)
Likewise, more city-based employees understand why LGBTI inclusion is important to an organisation (87% to 81%)
Those employees in regional locations are more likely to believe that there is no longer need to spend time on LGBTI inclusion, post marriage equality (14% to 9%)
Significantly, workforce behaviours differ considerably between city and regional workplaces. Almost 10% of LGB respondents have experienced negative commentary and jokes in their regional workplace, which is double the response from city employees. Likewise, 12% LGB regional employees have personally experienced bullying in the workplace (as opposed to 6% of city based employees). More specifically, 39% of regional employees pointed to their direct management as a source of such bullying (compared to 20% in the city).
Bearing in mind the small communities in which they work and live, LGB respondents in regional areas are also more like to expend energy hiding their sexuality to fit in. In the case of gender diverse employees, less than half in regional Australia felt their employers fully support them, whereas two thirds of those in the metropolitan areas felt their employer organisations do support them.
The business case of LGBTI inclusion, as with all aspects of diversity and inclusion, revolves around the war for talent. More and more Australian organisations. Irrespective of whether public or private sector; large or small; regional or city based, differentiate themselves by the quality and effectiveness of their people. Securing and retaining skilled and committed employees is particular hard away from the big cities. Over decades, LGBTI individuals have been attracted to the big cities for the sense of community they can offer; and in some cases, the professional anonymity they can have. The fact that regional employment appears more problematic to LGBTI employees, as outlined in the research cited, compounds the challenge. It is critical that any organisation who seeks to employ quality people in regional Australia, whether they be large national organisations or smaller regional and rural employees, (including all three levels of employment), develop an inclusion strategy that will, in turn, secure the talent they seek.
Across our diverse membership, Pride in Diversity has seen some terrific examples of proactive regional employment initiatives by a diverse range of organisations. Some of the better practices we have seen and helped support in execution include:
Introductory awareness training to ensure regional leaders and managers understand the specific realities of LGBTI inclusion, from the perspective of current and prospective employees
The development of a small community of visible allies that will support employees who chose to be the true self in the regional workplace. This could include proactive and visible executive support for this focus on LGBTI inclusion.
Reaching out to regional LGBTI community organisations, perhaps during traditional LGBTI days of commemoration (such as Pride month) to develop their local reputation for employment inclusion.
Reviewing an organisation’s HR policies and practices, and whether they overtly support their LGBTI employees.
Over the last 12 months, the issue of LGBTI equality and inclusion became part of the national narrative. Going forward, ensuring LGBTI employees can contribute to their workplaces most effectively, most productively and most creatively will be the responsibility of all leaders in employer organisations, irrespective of size, of sector and of location in the city or the bush.
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