18/08/2015 16:31 BST | Updated 18/08/2016 06:59 BST

Are Businesses Really Flying the Flag for LGBT Inclusion?

Business can be a powerful force for good. Large corporations in particular can set standards around the world, spark conversations and pave the way for societal change.

Because of this, at OUTstanding, we are very interested in the extent to which large organisations openly promote diversity, especially with regard to their LGBT employees. To gauge this we took a closer look at the annual reports of those at the top, the FTSE 100 members, for mention of LGBT diversity. (Criteria laid out at end of article*)

The results were illuminating. Our review revealed that while 99% of the annual reports refer to diversity as a whole, 80% of these lacked any mention of non-discrimination policies for transgender employees. Given that transgendered people are one of the most discriminated against groups in society, this seems to be a glaring omission.

Nearly half (47%) failed to mention similar policies for gay, lesbian or bisexual employees. Of those that did outline a LGBT non-discrimination policy, just 14% made any detailed reference to their LGBT commitments within their reports.

It seems that LGBT inclusion does not register as a priority to be communicated for most FTSE 100 companies. Perfunctory mentions of LGBT inclusion, unqualified by specific LGBT-focused inclusive activity, could suggest that many view LGBT diversity as merely a compliance issue, and are failing to pursue greater inclusion as a priority.

However, the above figures do not seem to represent the experience I have had as CEO of OUTstanding. Leaders I have met, many from FSTE 100 companies, readily talk about LGBT support networks and policies they are initiating at work, and the positive effects they are already having on business performance. They talk about them from both a business case and a moral imperative.

It's a shame that these efforts do not often get the column inches they deserve in both our national media and annual company reports. Openly recognising LGBT as a key diversity strand is the first step towards true inclusivity in business, especially when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent and properly reflecting the society in which they operate.

In a recent survey by OUTstanding of over 200 LGBT executives, 62% of respondents say that LGBT issues at work have been publically discussed by their CEO. This makes it the second most discussed diversity issue after gender (reported by 78% of respondents). 62% also say they have a visible LGBT role model in their executive leadership team, while 39% report a role model in the boardroom. This is certainly positive news.

Visible senior role models are vital to demonstrate you can be LGBT and successful. Even today 62% of students who were out at university go back into the closet when they start work. And 85% of our members believe that closeted LGBT professionals are sapped of energy pretending to be someone they're not and become less productive members of staff. This needs to change.

At OUTstanding we are working to address this issue. This year marks the third year of our Leading LGBT & Ally Executives lists. These lists champion business leaders who contribute daily to the cause, and by being authentically themselves at work, give others the strength and space to do the same.

The reality is businesses can do much good for both themselves and their customers by promoting LGBT inclusion, within and beyond their companies. Beyond, they can improve brand support from consumers, as well as forcing the pace of societal change. Within, we know that creating a work environment in which your employees can be themselves means they will work more productively and ultimately boost a business's bottom line.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe that companies are doing enough to promote LGBT inclusivity?

Nominations for the 2015's OUTstanding and the Financial Times Leading LGBT and Ally Executives Lists, with the new addition of a Top LGBT Future Leaders list, is now open.

So if there is anyone who has inspired you, please follow this link to nominate. Nominations close 17th September.

*Review criteria:

The reports were judged by four criteria:

- Is diversity mentioned

- Is 'sexual orientation' (or similar) mentioned in a paragraph outlining a company non-discrimination policy

- If 'gender identity' or 'gender reassignment' (or similar) were mentioned in a paragraph outlining company non-discrimination policy

- Was any aspect of LGBT mentioned in any more detail