Think at London Business School
Two members of staff and an alumnus share their personal reflections on Pride and LGBTQ+ progress
By Peter Johnson, Matthew Foster, José Martín Quesada
Aharon Cohen Mohliver, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship
People often assume that we are making linear progress on greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but I find that problematic. Ultimately it depends on the population you are sampling. If you sample from the companies that are already very inclusive, things seem to be going great. But if you sample from companies who lag far behind on the issues, it’s a very different picture. Being uncritically optimistic about it is simplistic.
On the plus side, as someone who teaches strategy, I can see indications that companies are increasingly approaching diversity and inclusion with an understanding that engaging with these issues proactively is ultimately in their own benefit.
This is not necessarily cynical. For example, I am working on a project about how signalling alignment with an ideological position on LGBTQ+ issues is viewed favourably by a stakeholders which ultimately can lead to better performance; not necessarily because firms are attempting to monetise the issue, but because such signals can, for example, attract employees with high human capital.
If you are an employer who has gender-neutral bathrooms and other facilities that signal inclusivity and diversity, you are going to be more attractive to the type of employee you need to recruit. You are also more likely to get high commitment from them and to retain them, so ultimately aligning with such positions can simply be a good strategy.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that you are better off as an MBA graduate from a top university venturing into the job market today if you are LGBTQ+ than not, and of course it’s great that employers now actively recruit people who are explicitly from minority groups – we’re tilting the pendulum back to compensate for years of it swinging the other way.
But this mostly affects people who are in their twenties and thirties today. Earlier generations would have grown up in an environment where, at least in their early career stages, they would have felt pressure to hide or not be explicit about their sexual identity.
My colleague Aneeta Rattan and I had a discussion about this, and we realised that this is problematic both for them and the management demographic beneath them, because what currently doesn’t exist are training and support networks for people in the over-40s age group, given that the people promoting them are often one generation older. Aneeta and I have designed an LGBTQ Executive Education programme for exactly this management demographic, which we will be launching next year.
In terms of furthering and promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, I have long been an advocate of organisations having voluntary disclosure of LGBTQ+ orientation. This just means adding one more box to the myriad tick boxes on an HR form, but I am amazed and depressed by the fact that people often object to its inclusion – not because they are in any way against greater inclusivity or diversity, but because they are worried that it might offend someone else. I can’t help but think that, in 10 years’ time, we will look back on this misplaced “sensitivity” like we might on a 1980s haircut today and cringe with embarrassment at the idea that putting “LGBTQ” on a form is offensive.
I also think we are fragmenting more and more. On the one hand, it’s easier to find people who are like us, on social media and in general, and that can be a very positive thing. On the other hand, it’s increasingly becoming unacceptable to express a position that is not fully aligned with that of the people around you. I think that this trend is antithetical to greater inclusivity, because silencing other opinions merely pushes people into adopting extreme positions, rather than helping to change mindsets and beliefs.
On a positive note, I can see very clear opportunities for businesses to benefit from a greater commitment to inclusivity. There are still many firms around who have senior leaders who aren’t putting in 100% of their potential because they do not fully align or identify with the company’s values and culture, and feel unable to be their authentic selves in the workplace. Simply put, companies can get more of their leaders by making the workplace more inclusive.
Many companies still have senior leaders who, if they were able to be authentic with everyone around them, would likely be happier in themselves, more empathetic with others, and therefore more effective as managers and leaders. From a pure strategy point of view, it makes sense to shift workplace culture to enable people to be fully authentic at work – and that would certainly help move the inclusivity dial in the right direction.
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Roomi Chowdhury MBA2022, Co-President, Out in Business Club
I was recently asked by an admit whether they need to be “out” in order to be involved with the Out in Business (OiB) club and my response was that no person should be “out” in any part of their life unless they want to be. For instance, some people feel comfortable enough to be out at work and others don’t – everyone’s journey is different. LGBTQ+ people continue to be persecuted in at least 69 countries around the world; some punishments include the death penalty. Take a moment and think about what that means. Because you love who you love, your life is at risk. By marking and celebrating Pride each year, the struggles of our LGBTQ+ siblings around the world are front of mind while we have hope that they can share the freedoms we already enjoy in some parts of the world. At LBS, staff and students work together on LGBTQ+ initiatives such as the upcoming Pride Party taking place virtually on 27 June 2021.
As the Co-President of the Out in Business (OiB) Club at LBS and part of the organising committee of EUROUT 2021 – Europe’s biggest LGBTQ+ business conference – I’m proud (excuse the pun) to showcase and celebrate intersectionality, equality, driving for cultural change, and making the (business) world more inclusive. While it’s every individual’s choice to be or not be out at work, it is every business’ responsibility to foster a kind, open, and inclusive environment empowering people to bring as much of themselves to work as they wish. This year’s conference is scheduled to take place 18-20 November 2021 – mark your calendars!
As well as EUROUT, the Out in Business (OiB) Club hosts many events throughout the year to nurture a wonderful community of LGBTQ+ people and allies – across admits, students, alumni, staff, and faculty. One such event is Coming Out Week (October each year) where students across programmes bravely tell their coming out stories to their classmates – a great way to highlight each person’s individual journey and hopefully empower others to feel comfortable to openly be who they are. Other events include the annual LGBTQ+ party which will take place in early September this year at a gay venue in Central London. Join the Out in Business (OiB) club on Campus Groups to learn more and be a part of one of the best clubs on campus (if I do say so myself).
Think at London Business School
We asked two members of the LBS community to share their thoughts on being LGBTQ+ and inclusion in the workplace
By Aharon Cohen Mohliver, Roomi Chowdhury