Stonewall’s list of the Top 100 LGBT-friendly employers in the UK includes just two retailers; Asda and The Co-Operative Group. So where are our high street stores and why is sexuality and/or gender identity the forgotten diversity strand?
It’s understandable that our retailers need to address areas like accessibility in stores, and improving the gender balance among home delivery drivers. But what about the trans customer who faces uncertainty and fear of discrimination each time they want to use the changing rooms? Or the mum who can’t find an engagement card for her son and future son-in-law?
Aside from the way retailers can engage with diverse communities better, there is also a really clear business case for them to pay attention to the experience of their LGBT staff, too. Stonewall's Workplace Equality Index, the definitive benchmarking tool used to identify the Top 100 employers, showed us that less than half of the 16 retail organisations that submitted in 2016 have anti-discrimination policies which address bullying and harassment based on someone’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Even more worryingly, only 31 per cent of those 16 retailers are training staff on basic equality legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010, which includes the provision of goods and services to lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.
So, what does an LGBT-friendly retailer look like? Inclusive policy goes without saying, but bringing that to life is something different. Our retailers consistently tell us that the leadership of the store manager is crucial to success, but so often I hear store managers say they know banter goes too far and they aren’t equipped to challenge it. For example, machinery is "gay" when it breaks, staff play the guessing game when they can’t be sure of a customer’s gender, and security guards still aren’t sure whether they can respond to customers who complain about the two men who are holding hands while doing their weekly shop.
Training for managers is key: getting them to use the right language, understand the issues and be empowered to challenge inappropriate behaviour all lend itself to a culture where diversity is celebrated and inclusion means your teams work together better because of their differences – not in spite of them.
Our LGBT communities are louder and prouder than ever before, and they’re your customers, too. Encourage your staff to fundraise for local LGBT charities, consider diversifying the magazines you sell, celebration cards you offer and whether you really need to divide children’s toys by gender. Be more conscious of the LGBT calendar and celebrate things like Pride in stores and in public. This year retailers likes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and O2 were all at Pride, and all received a rapturous reception from the one million-plus people in the crowd.
And if you think you’re already doing some of this, put your business to the test and participate in our Workplace Equality Index this year. Maybe your organisation will be the third retailer in our Top 100. Every retailer that submits gets confidential feedback, but more importantly, every retailer that submits recognises their responsibility to improve the lives of their LGBT staff and customers.
By Vicky Constance, Stonewall Group Manager
For more information on Stonewall and the Workplace Equality Index, click here