As members of the National Grid Pride LGBT supporters’ network get ready to take part in the Pride in London Parade, CEO of Xoserve and chair of the Pride LGBT supporters’ network, Chris Murray, highlights our support for LGBT employees.
Here in the UK we live in a very diverse society and it’s fantastic that we can celebrate that diversity with events like Pride in London which is taking place this month.
What’s strange though is that you won’t always see that diversity reflected in organisations – in fact it’s sometimes the opposite, where there is great pressure to conform to what is seen as the ‘norm’ within an organisation.
In National Grid we recognised some 15 years ago that that wasn’t a healthy situation and we needed to do something positive to address inclusion and diversity in our workforce. We started with gender diversity, setting up a women’s network to encourage women to develop careers in what had been a male-dominated environment.
Our LGBT network
Having started down that path it became clear that there were other groups who faced challenges in terms of inclusion. Over the years we have set up numerous networks such as our faith groups and our people with disabilities group. We now call these networks ‘employee resource groups’ (ERGs) for reasons I’ll explain later.
About ten years ago we set up an LGBT network and I was asked to chair it. At the time I was Director of Asset Management in Transmission where, amongst other things, I was responsible for many employees including the gas and electricity field force. I wondered whether setting up an LGBT network was a network too far and asked myself whether some of our employees would have a real challenge in accepting that this was the right thing to do.
After thinking it over, I (a straight white male with a wife and two children) realised that was my own unconscious prejudice talking, both in stereotyping what the reaction of someone working in the field force might be and also the realisation that, statistically, a fair number of those employees would be very pleased about the creation of the network which could give them a voice. Ten years on I’m pleased to say that our Pride LGBT supporters’ network is one of the most recognisable ERGs in National Grid
Supporting fairness in the workplace
Why then does National Grid attach such importance to promoting inclusion and diversity? The first reason is simply fairness. It is unfair to discriminate against anyone because of their race, faith, disability or sexual orientation. Why wouldn’t you support fairness in the workplace?
The next reason is that a person can only make a full contribution as an employee when they feel free to be themselves, when they feel valued for who they are. This is particularly true for sexual orientation, which is easy to hide. We are corporate members of Stonewall, leaders in promoting LGBT equality, and they’ve done research which reveals how damaging it is when employees feel they have to keep their sexuality a secret.
Feedback from our own employee engagement surveys bears this out. We know that LGBT employees make up a proportion of our workforce and that they score lower on the employee engagement scale than the overall employee score. Coming to work with a secret that you are worried about your colleagues discovering must make it very difficult to work to your full potential.
The third reason is about attracting talent to the organisation. We want to attract talent from the largest pool possible and to do that we need to create an open environment where talent of all persuasions will want to come to work for us and feel they can fully be themselves. For the younger generation sexuality is much less of an issue and they will want to see that openness reflected in an organisation offering them a career.
Employee resource groups
The employee engagement survey I mentioned earlier shows that we still have a way to go on our journey before we can truly say we have created a completely open and inclusive environment in National Grid, but we are making real progress.
The employee resource groups are a fundamental part of that and the support they receive is a clear signal of how seriously the business takes inclusion and diversity. The ERGs meet within working hours and provide a forum for people to come together and discuss issues that concern their particular groups. They aren’t just talking shops though; they have real influence, providing feedback and advice to senior management. For example, as a result of suggestions from our Pride LGBT supporters’ network, policies and procedures have been changed to make them more LGBT-friendly.
And that’s why we call our networks ‘employee resource groups’; all the groups are keen to be seen as a resource for the company and help shape it into the company we would like it to be.
Through the ERGs we have also set up a reverse-mentoring scheme where senior managers are paired with an employee representing one of the groups. Through that relationship the senior managers gain an insight into what it’s like for someone facing those specific challenges on a daily basis.
A further link into the decision-making process is provided through meetings between the ERG chairs and leads from all of the groups, where we cross-pollinate ideas. As a group we also meet with the new National Grid CEO, John Pettigrew. He is just as committed to ERGs as the outgoing CEO Steve Holliday was, and recognises their value to the business.
Optimistic for the future
We can put in place all the policies and procedures and frameworks that we want but in the end what really counts is how individuals think and behave. We can all influence the behaviours of others by example and our leaders have a particular responsibility in this regard. All of our leadership courses include a core part on the importance of inclusion and diversity to the health of our business.
There’s still a way to go but I am optimistic for the future and look forward to the day when we won’t need our employee resource groups because being open and inclusive is just how we are. Part of the reason for that optimism is that society is changing; same sex marriages are now regarded as normal and homosexuality is no longer outlawed in the armed forces, which now score well for being LGBT-friendly. I’m happy to see our employees benefitting from those wider changes and like to think we have also played a part in bringing them about.