THE BLOG

Mission Possible: Harnessing LGBT Inclusion in Business for Good

11/06/2015 11:03 BST | Updated 10/06/2016 10:59 BST

Not many people start a new job with the ambition to make their own role obsolete. But I hope to get a little bit closer to this goal every day I'm CEO at OUTstanding.

So how big is the task ahead of me? To find out, I've spent my first 100 days meeting as many senior business leaders as possible, to understand the opportunities and challenges of achieving OUTstanding's mission of creating an environment where LGBT executives can succeed.

Almost everyone I met could point to clear policies and support networks they had initiated and I was positively taken aback by how readily leaders I met accepted that being 'out' at work was good for the individual concerned as well as for the business. This reinforced findings from the OUTstanding network that being out at work is better for an employee's performance and therefore good for overall productivity.

This was music to my ears, but the more I learned, the more I realised it's only a start: a clear shift in thinking is taking place presenting new opportunities and challenges.

Recent consumer polling by Google in the USA shows that brands that support diversity are seen as more progressive: 47% of consumers under the age of 24 are more likely to support a brand after seeing an equality themed ad. Companies in the USA are taking the diversity agenda seriously not only for the sake of their employees but are also highly aware of consumer opinions - particularly younger consumers with more liberal social attitudes.

This has the potential to move on the LGBT professional equality agenda from solely one of being an 'employer of choice' to one where companies also have the opportunity to position themselves as a 'brand of choice' through the lens of inclusion.

If done well and honestly, inclusive internal and external market positioning can help grow brand awareness, attract and retain talent and support business development, whether you are selling goods and services to consumers, businesses or governments.

This is a particularly 'live' issue for the advertising industry, with companies like LinkedIn and agencies like Ogilvy UK pushing the brand and LGBT diversity debate onto a platform which is about better connecting with customers and better reflecting society. Other UK companies also get it. Barclays Bank, for example, has taken an integrated marketing approach, featuring a gay couple on TV ad campaigns, sponsoring London Pride and adding supportive messages on their ATM screens on international day against homophobia.

Integrating diverse thinking into sales and marketing activity, aligning it with the bottom line and embedding it into a business' DNA could be the key to overall success in our mission. It connects leaders with employees, LGBT with allies and businesses with society. This change needs to be driven by demonstrably inclusive leadership.

If executives - allies and LGBT alike - understand the potential for positive change, the opportunity is huge. There is a clear role for OUTstanding to help support progressive leaders who understand the need to engage responsibly with a rapidly changing word and bring them together to discuss the economic and social purpose of business.

It is also our job to engage next generation leaders to help shape their outlook and ensure that tomorrow's, as well as today's leaders, have the right tools to be great leaders, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Our hugely successful annual lists of LGBT and ally executives in the Financial Times have shown the quality of leaders we have in the UK and beyond. Visible, senior role models are vital in order to encourage other leaders to be better.

Many senior ally leaders also need support. They can feel unsure or uncomfortable about how to have these important conversations, and can feel "regulated." It is our role to help them feel more relaxed about opening dialogues around LGBT diversity and inclusion and expressing where it fits in the business growth strategy.

The need to visibly demonstrate a higher purpose, supported by values is increasingly important to help build trust and even restore tarnished reputations. Proving that you understand the 'brand of choice' business is vital for on-going success.

That is why organisations like the CBI, the UK's leading business body, are championing the positive impact those businesses which take the LGBT diversity and inclusion agendas seriously can have on society. On a quantitative level, the World Economic Forum has drawn economic links between diversity and competiveness, citing the growth of economic hubs such as London, Berlin and New York and how they are linked to their openness and social tolerance, which breeds innovation and creativity.

We are on the cusp of major change. Strong leadership has the power to join up conversations around LGBT diversity and inclusion, talent management, marketing and brands as well as trust and reputation. And by integrating the diversity agenda into a business' core, it becomes a powerful force in business and society for good.

In seeing this mission accomplished, I hope I find myself on the interview circuit sooner, rather than later.