Despite many LGBTQ+ employees indicating that tremendous strides and progress has been made by corporations, most employers are still not doing all they can to support them and are missing out on the many business growth opportunities true LGBTQ+ inclusion can drive.

A report issued by PwC South Africa today – ‘Chasing Rainbows: LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the South African corporate workplace – highlights the gap between what LGBTQ+ employees want and expect from their employers, and what employers actually offer. The report is based on an online survey across a broad spectrum of organisations during February 2021. Survey participants included Diversity & Inclusion leads, HR managers, and C-suite executives.

Liesbeth Botha, PwC Africa Shine Network Sponsoring Partner, says: “Many companies believe that they have all bases covered if they have non-discriminatory policies regarding diversity and inclusion in place, when, in fact, they may not fully comprehend the complexity of offering the right support to LGBTQ+ employees in their organisations to create a truly inclusive workplace.

“It should be a top priority of every company to create a safe and inclusive working environment for all employees – one in which individuals are able to thrive as their authentic self. Though there is no easy one-size-fits-all approach, there are ways in which employers can ensure diversity in the workplace, and most importantly, a positive change in the culture of their organisations.”

According to the report, 60% of respondents confirmed that their company has LGBTQ+ initiatives in place and supports related events, but only 27% run an official or named LGBTQ+ network within the company.

Botha says: “Large corporations often assume that sponsoring an LGBTQ+ event is enough to demonstrate their commitment to making a difference, but it often does little more than creating brand visibility for a moment. True impact is made when companies firstly invest in their own talent by listening to them, understanding their needs, and supporting their growth. Secondly, companies can make a meaningful contribution by participating in sustainable initiatives that assist the wider LGBTQ+ community over an extended period of time.”

The principal benefit to having an LGBTQ+ support network in place is to provide ongoing support to LGBTQ+ employees, to make them feel included and welcome and safe.


Who runs LGBTQ+ initiatives in the workplace?

Our research shows that while LGBTQ+ initiatives often start with employees, more than 50% evolve and grow successfully within the companies’ Diversity and Inclusion teams. This is likely due to the focused participation of such teams and their experience in dealing with what can be sensitive issues.

Botha adds: “In 2020, PwC launched its Shine network, whereby we aligned all our global LGBTQ+ networks under one fresh, new identity. Every day, our LGBTQ+ professionals shine. We bring our authentic selves to PwC, making our workplace culture brighter. The rainbow colours used in our Shine campaign are a powerful symbol for our community because it allows each distinct colour to shimmer and shine.

“We believe that for an LGBTQ+ network to thrive and be successful, there should be representation across all levels within the company, including top leadership, but especially from LGBTQ+ members and allies.”

Despite the existence of LGBTQ+ initiatives, and the desire, and need, for new or improved initiatives to be implemented, the extent to which these initiatives are embraced within the company is not always as positive as one would expect. Less than half of respondents (46%) believe that LGBTQ+ initiatives are fully embraced within their organisations. Another 39% are ambivalent about the success of the initiatives.


Visibility and consistent communication

Sixty-two percent of respondents stated that there was visibility within the company surrounding LGBTQ+ initiatives. Platforms used for communication and to create visibility are: social media (62%), emails (54%), events and team discussions (54%), and leadership communications (23%).  Despite the use of numerous forms of communication, there is still room for improvement, including increasing awareness, education, and effective communication.


‘Culture add’

Although the conventional forms of communication are effective tools for conveying a message, we believe that it is only by adopting a firmwide inclusive culture, and living by this, that companies can effectively overcome resistance to LGBTQ+ inclusivity. We advocate for fully embracing diversity and inclusivity for minorities.

Taking this idea one step further, we also suggest that leaders drop the ‘culture fit’ approach, where employees are encouraged to culturally fit in with the rest of the company. We believe there is greater value in embracing a ‘culture add’ approach, in which every individual, in their uniqueness, adds to the culture of the company.


Protection provided by policies

While the Constitution has certainly contributed positively to the protection of LGBTQ+ rights on a national, legislative level, there are members of the community that still face challenges of discrimination, inequality, exclusion, and much worse on a daily basis in society and the workplace.

All company policies should incorporate 100% inclusivity and equality and 0% discrimination. They should also be explicit in defining the rights of LGBTQ+ members’ needs, thereby eliminating any uncertainty.

When developing and implementing company policies, consideration should be given to having the right balance of sources of input. At a bare minimum, policies should be aligned to national laws and regulations, and HR, Diversity and Inclusion, as well as Risk Management teams should also be consulted.

Botha concludes: “We believe that well-structured LGBTQ+ networks can, and should, exist despite potential adverse reactions from select individuals or groups. Through consistent and constant education and communication, prejudice and fear of the unknown can be overcome.

Each conscious action in support of our LGBTQ+ community, irrespective of how small, is a step towards creating a completely inclusive culture.”