The 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality has provided an opportunity for employers to encourage their employees especially those from the LGBT community to bring their whole self to work, to be themselves. There are many reasons for this; The company may want to record and promote the diversity of its employees and promote a strategy of inclusion. Or the company may also recognise that people who have to spend their working day pretending to be living a life that is different to their reality could be damaging their own mental health as the pressures to maintain the pretence increase. Linked to this, if people are able to be themselves at work they are likely to be happier, and as a consequence are also likely to be more productive.
Regardless of what motivates an employer, the result, should contribute to a more inclusive society.
I recently saw a play at Slung Low, the pay what’s right for you, theatre in Leeds which explored how people change the way that they treat people after they know that they are LGBT.
In the play, Gypsy Queen, the two main characters are both boxers and both gay. There are a couple of differences between them though. One Dane ‘The Pain’ Samson played by Ryan Clayton is a champion in the conventional Queensbury Rules style and comfortable with his sexuality. The other, ‘gorgeous’ George O’Connell, played by Rob Ward, is a member of the travelling community and a champion bare knuckle street fighter.
When the play starts it is Gorgeous George, who is struggling with his sexuality. It is his meeting with Dane the Pain and their relationship that gives him the confidence to accept and acknowledge his sexuality.
One day, George is the hero, but when he ‘comes out’ he is shunned and goes from hero to less than zero just for being himself.
It is a truly painful watching Rob portray this process, powerless to both move towards living his own life and fight the abuse.
The final consequences are perhaps as predictable as they are tragic.
An HR Perspective
What is interesting about Gypsy Queen from an HR perspective is not so much the process that George goes through, but the way in which the supporting cast of characters change how they treat him as they become aware of his sexuality. He is not fulfilling their perceptions of the type of man that a boxing champion should be, and he has to endure both physical and verbal abuse.
The treatment of these two gay men does not match the image an outsider watching the media coverage of the increasing acceptance of same gender marriage, and the increasing number and size of Pride events all over the country would have of the United Kingdom.
The UK does seem to have adopted the mantra of President Obama of the United States that everyone is entitled to the equal protection of the law regardless of who they love.
Whilst there may be support for LGBT equality in the annual reports of big business and the establishment of an array of support mechanisms the issue for HR and learning and development professionals is how do we transfer this commitment in to the work place that is often more likely to reflect the experiences that George had.
Research from the Trades Union Congress indicates that more than a third of LGBT workers in the UK has experienced harassment, bullying or discrimination at work. More than 5,000 people responded to the survey, almost 30% of this was perpetrated by a manager, and about 14% by a client or patient.
It is perhaps not surprising that more than half of LGBT people do not disclose their sexuality to work colleagues.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said that despite the UK fast becoming a more equal and accepting country, it is shocking that in 2017 so many lesbian, gay, bi and trans people around the UK still experience discrimination and harassment at work just because of their sexuality or because they are trans.
Ms O’Grady called on employers to enforce zero tolerance policies when it comes to the harassment of LGBT employees. She described homophobia and transphobia at work as undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health.
We have however seen that companies are acting, but the message does not seem to be getting through to workers who appear from the TUC research and similar research conducted by Stonewall to be still treating LGBT colleagues unfairly.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has taken a lead in committing to promoting inclusion
Unfortunately, our work places are a reflection of the society in which we live.
It is not acceptable to make a negative comment to someone based on the colour of their skin or their religion, just look at the furor created when a Conservative politician used the N word, or when a journalist refers to the pay that Jewish celebrities are given.
The condemnation in these cases was justified, but there are few word related to sexuality that would engender the same flurry of coverage. It remains socially acceptable to make negative comments about someone’s actual or perceived sexuality or sexual identity. This is despite as research reported in The Independent shows men who are homophobic are likely to be trying to hide their own interest in homosexuality.
The solution is perhaps two-fold.
If as employers and HR professionals we tell our employees to bring their whole self to work, because it will make them happier and more productive, then we owe it to them to protect them when they take us at our word.
If you have been subject to bullying, harassment or discrimination at work, because of your actual or perceived sexuality or sexual identity there is advice here.
For information about learning resources and training courses that support a diverse and inclusive work place.
Read my review of Gypsy Queen at Culture Vulture
Michael Millward joined BBC Radio York Drive show host Steve Bailey this afternoon to discuss what happens when the behaviour of a senior executive becomes an embarrassment for the company that they work for and they are forced or decide to leave their job. The latest incident involved Bob Champion the former CEO of Barclays, the bank which was fined a record amount by financial regulators in the United Kingdom and United States for manipulating interest rates.
Whilst not discussing the specifics of the Barclays situation Mr Millward explained that this is not the first case of a CEO losing their job because of the activities of their employees on their watch.
It is not just business leaders, government ministers are expected to fall on their swords when the actions of civil servants in their department cause questions to be asked about their leadership.
Of course it is not always the actions of others that cause the loss of position. It can often be their own behaviour as Charles Kennedy a former leader of the Liberal Democrats Party and Mark Oaten one of the candidates to replace him found in 2006.
It is often not the behaviour that causes the problem, but the reaction of others that causes the problem. If a senior manager loses the support of colleagues, subordinates or customers their position as a leader becomes untenable.
The corporate world has been blighted for several years by a series of scandals that have brought down both CEOs and the companies that they led.
At Enron, Worldcom and many others the misbehaviour was financial, at Boeing an extra-marital affair with an employee brought the downfall of the former CEO. With Barclays the problem was an incident which proved to be the straw that broke the camels back after a series of scandals and fines the Bank of England appears to have withdrawn it support for the CEO of Barclays.
Given how common these types of situations are becoming it is surprising how few organisations, corporate or political have planned how they will deal with the misbehaviour of senior executives.
The majority of organisations have described in detail how they will deal with the misdemeanours of the most junior employees, but the more senior an employee is the easier it becomes for them to get-a-way with it; or so it seems.
An American Association of Credited Fraud Examiners found that in 2004 the cost of senior executive’s misfeasance was 16 times that of employees. So why don’t companies deal with it?
There are a variety of reasons.
One thing is certain; if news of the executive’s misbehaviour becomes public the organisation will respond viciously. Distancing themselves from the miscreant as soon as possible.
The guardians of organisational behaviour are supposed to be the HR Department, but whilst many talk of what they would do from an ethical prospective they are part of the corporate machine and have to be aware of the strategic implications as well. Consequently far from protecting the ethical position of the employer it may be the HR department that organises a quiet departure that allows the ‘embarrassment’ to pursue other interests.
The FirstEleven™ things that a HR professional should be thinking about when considering how to deal with the misbehaviour of senior executives are.
Policy & Procedure
There is no point in waiting until it happens to start thinking about how you will deal with an incident.
You need to create a policy and a procedure on how issues will be dealt with.
How will misbehaviour be defined?
The law in the United Kingdom and many other countries protects employees who blow the whistle on senior managers or their employer as an organisation.
On a personal level if you are the person who has to raise the issue directly with the executive against who an accusation has been made, how will you do it? Do you have the skills?
An allegation against a senior executive should be investigated in exactly the same way as an allegation against any other employee.
All investigations need to be investigated sensitively, to prevent rumours and protect all the parties involved.
As with every other investigation you undertake in to potential misbehaviour of any kind you must remember not to get emotionally involved. Deal with the facts.
Be diplomatic with everybody. Don’t react to or draw conclusions based on one piece of evidence.
Make sure that you nobody can claim that you did not listen to them properly, and equally that nobody is led to believe that you are on their side.
Some people worry that documenting everything puts them at the risk of criticism should the investigation result in an employment tribunal or worse if a criminal case is brought.
This is not the case. Carefully kept notes of an investigation, can only serve to prove that a complete investigation took place and that the recommendations you made and actions you took were justified given the information you had.
It is easy to feel loyalty towards a manager, especially if they have helped you in your career, and been supportive of you. But your first loyalty must be to the organisation.
If the allegations are found to be without substance your manager will thank you for the thorough and impartial investigation you undertook and for vindicating his/her position. If they are found to be true, you will have proved a valuable resource to your employer.
Ask yourself, if these allegations are true, how loyal has the manager been to the company and the other people involved?
You need to know what the worst case scenario could be. Are you as the messenger likely to get shot for raising the issue in the first place? Or even though you do a great job, will you be alienated from the senior management team, even those you found to be without blame?
If you believe the situation warrants the involvement of independent investigators you should arrange this.
Organisations like to keep the misdemeanours of all their employees regardless of their status out of the public domain.
But what happens if the issue does become public knowledge, how are you going to deal with it?
You should have a statement prepared that focuses on what the organisation is doing to maintain and protect its ethical stance. But at the same time make sure that you do not imply any guilt on the part of any employee or make a statement that allows the media to draw another conclusion.
Throughout the process you must ensure that you keep and open mind. An allegation is just that, an allegation and remains so until it has been proven with facts.
Just ahead of National Ban Bullying at Work day Abeceder managing director Michael Millward spoke today at a meeting of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Scarborough forum, which was held at the Woodend Creative Workspace.
Posted in Business Ethics