Is more regulation needed to enforce LGBTQ+ workplace equality?

It was 23 years ago that US President Bill Clinton first described June as Pride month. Since then, the mainstream acceptance towards the LGTBQ+ community has increased considerably. Despite the improvements, there are still reported experiences of discrimination in the workplace. Does this call for increased regulation?

Regulation and legislation around LGBTQ+ rights have widened significantly over the course of the 30 years. In 2013 and 2015, gay marriage was legalised in the UK and the US, respectively. The Equality Act of 2010 protects LGBTQ+ people from direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation at work. Going even further back, the 1998 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was formed to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms across Europe.

One area where there still appears to be dark spots, however, is in the workplace. In 2021, research from the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute found that 38% of LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing harassment at work, while 34% of LGBTQ+ employees claim to have left a job due to treatment by their former employer. In even more worrying numbers, almost half – 46% – of LGBTQ+ workers claim they have experienced unfair treatment at work at some point in their lives.

These findings paint a particular grim picture of how workplace discrimination against LGBTQ+ people still fester in some parts. With this taken into consideration, is further legislation needed?

In the eyes of Eugenie Casier – GRC director at Clausematch – while there are regulations currently in place against workplace discrimination, the inequalities people in the LGBTQ+ community often face can be very subtle. She gave an example of how it can be hard to measure the inability of people to advance in their careers and therefore makes it harder to formulate regulations around these themes.

She added, “More recent charters such as the FinTech for All Charter are used by companies where they openly hold themselves accountable to certain targets. At the moment, it is, however, still early to see the full effects of this self-regulation.”

Despite this, Casier believes that it may be the case that we do not need more regulation, rather, the strongest force towards correction in the tech sector could come from the market.

Casier underlined, “Recent studies conducted by Credit Suisse and McKinsey show that companies that are diverse outperform their competitors. Reasons for the correlation between ESG and financial performance could be that you become more representational of the society and relevant to a wider customer base. You also invite more creativity into your business.”

Alongside this, Casier noted there is a clear trend where VCs and other investors are now looking at businesses more critically from an ESG standpoint to assess their ‘investability’. “Being in a high-growth mode, tech companies such as Clausematch are continuously looking for the best talent. They need to be open to providing a safe home for all. And people like myself, that consider themselves an ally, scrutinise a business and its diversity and inclusivity before joining.”

For and against

The acceptance of diversity in the workplace and society is continuously growing, with many businesses going out of their way to show off their diversity and inclusion credentials. This growth in acceptance may reflect why some companies may believe that additional regulation is not required.

Anthony Quinn – founder of Australian RegTech firm Arctic Intelligence – echoed a similar point, saying, “Most organisations and employees seem more aware and accepting of diversity in the workplace and society in general whether that relates to age, race, religion, gender or sexual preferences, so personally I am not sure additional regulation is the answer as there are already laws and policies designed to prevent discrimination but we should foster and celebrate cultures that embrace diversity in their words, actions and deeds.”

However, there are some who believe that ongoing regulation in this area is required, with a changing society needing to have regulations that adapt with it.

Sheree Atcheson – VP of diversity and inclusion at Valtech – remarked, “Regulation is an important part of inclusion and diversity work as it holds organisations to account and makes it clear what is expected of all of us. This helps create and sustain tangible polices that drive real change as opposed to lose initiatives that can fall by the wayside once occasions such as Pride Month are over.

“I would like to firstly see more work done on ensuring LGBTQ+ individuals feel safe and secure within workplaces, given research from organisations such as Stonewall, has shown that LGBTQ+ folks within the UK are more likely to hide this part of themselves for fear of discrimination. Clear policies and processes to safeguard LGBTQ+ employees are core to any business and must be clear and concise. Through providing this and challenging the bias within our processes and decision-making ways, we should be clear on what behaviour we accept and more importantly, what we do not.”

A middle way between both of these paths in that of increased education, a strongly embedded positive workplace culture and individual company policies. eflow Global CEO Ben Parker said, “Of course regulation enforcing egalitarian hiring practices is important to promote LGBTQ+ equality in the FinTech space, but there are so many more steps that can and must be taken.

“It is also the responsibility of individual firms to set up clear and explicit zero-tolerance policies for homophobia, transphobia and queer discrimination in any form. Companies must also create an environment which is tolerant and understanding, providing training and education on LGBTQ+ issues where necessary and setting up support networks for those members of the queer community who might be struggling.”

Fudia Smartt – employment partner at law firm Spencer West – also added, “Although regulation does have a part to play in ensuring workplace equality, an important first step is to embed a workplace culture that allows people to be authentic at work, no matter what their gender identity or sexuality.

“In many cases, this will require more training and raising awareness. It is also vital that any poor behaviour, or inappropriate language disguised as ‘banter’, is dealt with promptly.”

Positive internal structures

At the foundation of having strong, positive internal messaging is the need to have strong, positive internal structures. RegTech firm Point Nine underlined that it sees itself as a key example of that.

Point Nine COO, Nestoras Nestorides, said, “We go above and beyond to make sure we protect the principles of fairness, dignity, diversity, and respect for all employees. We want to make sure each and every employee is treated fairly, and feels secure, happy, heard, and valued, regardless of gender, sexual preferences, culture, background, and religion.

“We focus on all the components that contribute to the meaning of inclusivity. Inclusivity is the feeling of true safety and belonging, and it begins with valuing contributions from human capital. These contributions can include opinions, solutions, innovative and creative ideas, and the feeling of power and influence to shape decisions that not only directly impact teams but the organization as a whole.

According to Nestorides, recognising and celebrating diversity begins with leadership. “Recognising and celebrating diversity begins with leadership. At Point Nine, we train leaders to be legacy leaders. Legacy leaders work together to create work environments that prioritise vision, creativity, motivation, enthusiasm, encouragement, and empathy, ensuring every team member feels heard and valued, and has an equal opportunity to contribute their unique and special talents to projects.

“Leaders put their emotional intelligence to work. They build trust networks and consensus by having open and honest conversations and communicating effectively, seeing things from others’ perspectives, and removing bias. This boosts collaboration, increases productivity and morale, and, therefore, employee engagement for better project—and client—outcomes all around.”

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