Northern Ireland’s Rainbow Project has launched a new workplace diversity and inclusion programme.

The LGBT charity said it was the first and only programme to be introduced for the public and private sector across the province.

The Diversity Champions NI programme allows organisations to be recognised as having robust equality and diversity policies and practices in place as well as promoting a workplace culture where all staff can be themselves.

John O’Doherty, director at The Rainbow Project said: “The programme will assist employers to become more open and diverse. It will also ensure that organisations are better able to recruit the best people and retain good talent, generally making them more competitive in an increasingly global marketplace”.

“Staff who can be open about their sexual orientation at work are more likely to enjoy going to work, form honest relationships with colleagues, feel confident and ultimately be more productive.

“We know that by creating a workforce which is more engaged, organisations gain through increased productivity, lower staff turnover, better recruitment and retention of staff and overall, an enhanced reputation”.

The initiative was launched at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, at an exclusive event sponsored by Pinsent Masons and Belfast City Council. Both organisations are inaugural members of the programme, alongside Lloyds Banking Group and Allen & Overy.

Peter McNaney, chief executive of Belfast City Council added: “Our LGB&T action plan is one of various measures in place to help us become a more open, diverse and inclusive workplace for all our employees. Being part of the Diversity Champions programme means that we have unlimited access to expert advice, consultancy support and first class training. It also allows us to showcase our own best practice and learn from an ever growing network of progressive, creative employers”.

A UK Supreme Court judge gave a robust defence of equal marriage in a speech delivered on Wednesday in Northern Ireland – where the measure remains illegal.

Lord Wilson of Culworth said the decision of England, Wales and Scotland to legalise equal marriage would strengthen the institution.

Northern Ireland is now the only remaining part of the UK where marriage rights for same-sex couples have yet to be granted.