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Supporting LGBTQ+ students into the world of work

It’s probably safe to assume the most common commitments will be to deliver support for gender, ethnicity and neuro-diversities amongst teams. All valid and very necessary, but what about support and safe environment for LGBTQ+ employees? Against the backdrop of this year’s LGBT History Month, we consider what employers can do to effectively engage and support LGBTQ+ candidates in the world of work, especially as this particular strand of the DEI framework is one that often falls down the priority list. I recently caught up with Tom Syder, the Outreach and ED&I Officer and Chair of the Pride Group at the University of Birmingham, and Steve Keith, Director of Curious Consulting, and founder of the Queer Student Awards to explore how employers can better support this particular talent pool. Here are some of the key takeaways:

Equality statements don’t mean anything unless you live them

Almost every job advert and company website will contain some form of a diversity statement and promises, but it is important to go beyond this and demonstrate their embedded values by illustrating what this means in your business’ day-to-day activity. Simple reflective questions can help you to understand if what you say is true: Do people feel comfortable being their true selves in the workplace? Are they confident the business supports them when impacted by external events? Is there an ally scheme to enable colleagues to support and learn through interaction? And what about microaggressions and inappropriate comments, are these openly challenged? Or does the company simply add a rainbow to its logo during Pride? Equality statements are not just written words. More needs to be done to highlight and support placing more LGBTQ+ representation into senior leadership roles within businesses, providing the younger aspiring generations with role models.

Employee networks are hugely valuable

Workplace culture is a key driver of Gen Z’s decision making when deciding whether to leave their current role, with 30% of non-binary responses from our 2023 Gen Z report stating this as their main reason. If you want to attract more LGBTQ+ students into your recruitment process, then having a visible representative employee network is by far the best approach as it clearly demonstrates you actively support your staff. Better yet, encourage your employees to support your campus activities, networking events, and induction processes. Meeting a future co-worker they can personally relate to will make the students feel more comfortable with the prospect of joining your company. Something to consider is Stonewall accreditation which is highly influential with student decision making, and their equality index helps assess an organisation’s achievements and progress on LGBTQ+ equality.

LGBTQ+ applicants need to feel safe in the recruitment process

LGBTQ+ students have often honed incredible skills in problem solving, self-management, and resilience because of their lived experience. Skills that are arguably some of the most important for success in a first role and ongoing successful career. But what if students felt unable to share key skill-making experiences for fear of a reaction in an interview? By demonstrating your company's active approach to DE&I policies, students will get a better and more trusted idea of you ahead of their interview. A suggestion could be to include anonymised testimonials from interviews that had DE&I discussions, helping students understand their experiences are valid and wanted.

We need to do a better job of providing support

Poor mental health and the LGBTQ+ community has a strong overlap. For many students, university is the first time they can freely explore their identity in a safe space, but it is also a time when they are separated from their usual support groups. Unfortunately, university counselling services, (like wider NHS facilities) are over-stretched and underfunded. Places of employment need to provide employees with access and direction to employee assistance programmes, designed to help those who may be having a difficult time. A starting point is to provide information to various national support lines and charities, alongside the internal options and who the DE&I representatives are. A lot of positive work is happening in the DE&I space, and we need to make sure our initiatives don’t forget equal commitment to a community who also need recognition in the workplace. So often the diversity box is ‘ticked’ however the inclusion piece is not actioned, meaning that true DE&I is not achieved. If you take just one thing from reading this article, please reach out to someone you know who may be impacted and see what support you can offer.   *Request your copy of our latest Gen Z Hiring & Retention report, alongside our other upcoming 2023 reports.

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