This is a story about stories. About narratives. Or, particularly, the story about Eric Fanning. Or at least part of the story about Eric Fanning. A snapshot - like the reporting on Eric in this weeks article in the @Independent….
So, who are the main characters?
Eric Manning - a loyal employee of the government of the USA, with 25 years service, who, having been appointed by Barrack Obama in 2015, has now been confirmed by the United States Senate as the Secretary of the Army. Oh, and he’s gay.
OK, sounds like a good read – what’s the plot?
The @Independent article was short and sweet, less like a story and more like an acknowledgement, a kind announcement in The Times, which had been buffed up after spending a little too long in the gym. The central theme of the article is that Eric Fanning is the most senior openly gay official at the pentagon.
Is there a subtext?
Yes. Read between the lines. For every Eric Fanning, there are goodness only knows how many gay, lesbian, bi and trans employees who are too afraid to be themselves in (and outside) work. There’s also a suggestion that many in the LGBT community have trouble breakingthe pink ceiling.
But it’s a happy ending for Eric, no?
Eric Fanning got the job, but probably against all odds. Many people who possess a “protected characteristic” - whether they are female, have a disability, are gay, bisexual, transgendered or ethnic minority – will have experienced some type of discrimination in the workplace.
How does this relate to the UK employment market?
LGBT employees are still notoriously absent from senior roles within many organisations.
What about the political party leaders in Scotland? Aren’t they all gay?
Several are, yes – which is fantastic progress!
So there’s no problem then.
You’re kidding, right? Just check out how many FTSE one hundred companies are run by someone belonging to the LGBT community.
So why is the LGBT community so under-represented in senior and influential roles ?
Former BP CEO Lorde Brown said he felt unable to be open about his sexuality at work because the atmosphere was so heterosexual. Discrimination in the workplace means upward mobility is adversely effected, and many organisations are not doing enough to ensure their workforces are representative of the wider community. When Lorde Brown was born homosexuality was illegal in the UK. Eric Fanning’s appointment took place only a year after gay marriage was legalized in the USA.
Clearly, for members of the LGBT community, the odds are stacked against them - in and outside of work.
OK. So what can employers do to demonstrate they are LGBT friendly?
One word: MORE. Employers need to actively position themselves as being LGBT employers of choice, and shout it from the rooftops! Most organisations do not specifically target the LGBT community as potential employees. So targeted approaches to recruitment, for instance, would be a start. Employers can demonstrate their commitment to being an LGBT employer of choice by taking part in the Stonewall LGBT equality index.
OK, so I’m a company manager running an organisation with no LGBT attraction policy – sell me the benefits.
Diversity is good!!! It’s been proven time and time again that diverse workforces perform better.
So employers paying attention to the bigger picture hopefully means more LGBT staff in senior and influential positions.
So, where does the story end?
It doesn’t. HR is about continuous improvement. Note to self: Must try harder.