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EXCLUSIVE: Cabinet minister urges Tories to back workplace equality

Tony Grew July 8, 2008

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has challenged the Tory party over equality.

John Hutton spoke to at the launch of new research into productivity at work among gay, bisexual and lesbian people.

Peak Performance: Gay people and productivity found a positive link between workplace climate and productivity and performance.

It outlines a “compelling business case” for good practice around sexual orientation in the workplace.

Mr Hutton said that business case was being made and he hoped the Conservative party also understand the importance of equality.

“Personally I remain to be convinced that they do,” he told

“Some of us remember the last ten and fifteen years and the debates we used to have with them.

“And some of the leading opponents, that was so odious and unacceptable, they are still there.

“And I think, I hope there is a consensus now that we can move beyond the old debates.

“Look, it’s no use saying that you support the principle you have to will the means to get there in the end.

“I think in the business community the debate has moved along leaps and bounds.

“I am not saying that every battle has been fought and won but we are definitely in a different area, a different space now and many, many more employers want to be part of it.

“It’s really good. Really healthy.”

Employers who are part of the Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme work with them to promote lesbian, gay and bisexual equality in the workplace and share best practice with other companies.

Both the Labour and Conservative parties are members of the scheme, along with nearly every central government department.

In total more than 400 organisations, employing four million people, are members.

Mr Hutton was full of praise for Peak Performance: Gay people and productivity, which was commissioned by Stonewall and sponsored by IBM.

Researchers interviewed and conducted focus groups with 107 lesbian, gay and bisexual staff from 21 public and private sector organisations about being gay in the workplace.

The interviews explored how they felt about being open about their sexual orientation at work and how this affected their performance and what steps their employers had taken which made it easier or more difficult for lesbian and gay staff to be themselves in the workplace.

Copies of the report can be found on the Stonewall website.

Mr Hutton said new legislation will take the concept of equality into new areas.

“The Equality Bill will not change attitudes but you can build a consensus and that gives you that extra impetus,” he said.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall chief executive, said:

“Lesbian and gay respondents who feel able to be out at work, and well supported by their employers, reported that they are significantly more effective, more motivated and built better working relationships with colleagues.

“This is a powerful lesson for employers across Britain. Lesbian and gay equality at work evidently makes good business sense.”

Interviewees, who ranged from partners to administrative staff, identified that robust, inclusive policies, employee network groups, senior lesbian and gay role models and expressions of commitment to lesbian and gay employees from senior leaders are all ways that significantly encourage gay staff to perform better because they can be themselves.

However, most participants in the research chose not to identify their own workplace in the report.

“This is stark evidence that lesbian and gay staff still don’t feel comfortable enough in their working environment,” said Mr Summerskill.

“Workplaces can still do more to be supportive and welcoming of potential lesbian and gay recruits.

“In an increasingly competitive labour market, employers who don’t take lesbian and gay equality seriously risk losing out to those who do.”

Observations from lesbian and gay staff included in the research:

“You’d have to pay me a lot more than I get paid here to go somewhere else. I just feel very comfortable here and I feel very accepted. I feel very loyal to the organisation.”

“If I’m not out at work, I spend more time trying to conceal my home life and therefore not concentrating on my job.”

“It’s really great management. I feel at the moment I’ve got absolutely no desire to look elsewhere for work.”

“I have the experience with my current manager where I feel very unsupported around some homophobic things. I am very conscious of the impact of that on my work.”

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