Are you really hiring without bias? LGBTQ+ leaders on how to diversify the boardroom

Research suggests LGBTQ+ individuals are underrepresented in leadership roles. Four LGBTQ+ business leaders share their insights on how to include diversity in their boardrooms


illustration about LGBTQ+ leadership in business

Businesses need to reflect the society we live in. And that means that diversity must be included at the highest level in organisations. While the data is scarce, research points to a noticeable lack of LGBTQ+ people in leadership positions, so their contributions – from how the company is run, to its productivity – are underrepresented and their creativity and insights are left out of the boardroom. 

Last year, for example, the global network INvolve found that there are no publicly out LGBTQ+ CEOs in the FTSE 100. Another study, meanwhile, reported that just 0.2% of director roles in Fortune 500 companies (24 out of 5,690 seats) were taken up by openly LGBTQ+ individuals.

This Pride Month, we asked four LGBTQ+ leaders for their ideas on the most effective ways to increase diversity in the boardroom.

Robyn Grew, group COO, Man Group 

Create an environment where people are comfortable to be their authentic selves. It will help people – from juniors to leaders – to thrive. 

This is easier said than done but it’s crucial if you want to retain candidates and support them on their journey through to the senior ranks of a firm.

Networks are important. People need safe spaces to talk about challenges and concerns – as well as celebrate their communities. Building connections with external organisations can be effective and make you aware of talented candidates that you might not otherwise have encountered. 

Being different allows you to see the benefits of coming to a complex problem with a unique perspective that other people haven’t lived. For me, it’s always been about being authentic. About celebrating the difference. And about not being shy of those differences but making differences work for you. I hope that I am leading by example in that respect and encouraging others to be themselves and lend their unique perspectives to the business. We’re unquestionably stronger for it.

Belton Flournoy is a director at Protiviti technology and digital consulting practice and an advisory board member for The Inclusion Initiative at the London School of Economics 

When you are your authentic self and not spending energy hiding who you are, your productivity increases. LGBTQ+ people might feel less inclined to speak up in meetings – not because that’s their personality but because of the environment in which they were raised. For example, when I was in a Catholic high school in Texas, it was socially acceptable to talk negatively about gay people. 

Companies need to empower the next generation of leaders so that LGBTQ+ people coming through the pipeline feel they can speak their minds. They can do this by talking to their LGBTQ+ staff to understand their needs, and by supporting them through the conversations they have. The more confident people are, the more they believe in themselves, and the more likely they are to be able to manage people who disagree with them. 

I have a passion for diversity and inclusion, which stems from going back into the closet when I first moved to the UK and feeling I couldn’t be myself. I created the UK LGBT+ network in my firm, so people would know that we’re inclusive. I wanted to help other people do that, so I also co-founded Pride in the City, with Pride in London and the support of the mayor Sadiq Khan, which I ran for three years. Last year, I joined The Inclusion Initiative run by the London School of Economics. That’s been fabulous because they’re using research to drive change. I’m starting to understand all these biases in real, quantifiable terms.

Meghan Stabler, senior vice-president, BigCommerce 

Why does visibility matter? When a group is represented, people find it easier to understand them. If we’re not seen, then we’re not included in the conversation. As a leader in a company, I transitioned in 2004. I had made a choice: do I transition and go stealth? Or do I try to change the world that I’m trying to survive in and make it a better place for others like me? I decided that I was going to be visible. Whatever the cost and impact would be personally. Fundamentally, I believe that we – as transgender and non-binary people – have the same right as everybody else to be included in the conversation. To be treated equitably and with respect. 

Diversity and elevating people with other experiences matter to business; if you want to be representative of the world and the consumers you serve, you’ve got to look in the mirror at your own company and its diversity footprint. Does the brand represent the people you sell to and serve, at the end of the day? It’s about holding up the organisational structure to a microscope and inspecting it. It’s about looking at the composition of your board and leadership team. Is it traditionally white-male dominated? How many minorities do you have on the board? You need to do your own reckoning. You have to take it down from the board composition and start looking at your management structure, and even your hiring and onboarding practices. Are you really hiring without bias? Are you promoting without bias? That internal reckoning is extremely important. 

One thing that a lot of our LGBTQ leaders can bring to the table is, firstly, that we’re just the same as anybody else. We deal with the same issues and we can lead like anybody else. But we’re also likely to bring a lot more awareness and empathy. 

Iain Anderson, executive chairman of Cicero/amo and the government’s former LGBT business champion 

Visibility is key. You have to ensure that the culture of your organisation provides the space for everyone to be open. Mentoring is an important part of this story, too, in terms of allowing developing leaders to be supported.

I’ve helped my own company become more LGBTQ+ inclusive by leading a culture of openness from the top, by mentoring staff, and by encouraging open conversations about the opportunities and challenges.

I was so delighted to work as the UK’s first ever LGBT business champion. My first task was to ensure there was more of a focus on SMEs which are often neglected in this conversation. So, we set up a network to allow large and small companies to work with each other. I also wanted to ensure that sectors of the economy that don’t usually feature in the ‘LGBTQ+ at work’ conversation became more fully part of this.

I think we need the same focus on LGBTQ+ in boardrooms as we have across other areas. It was an area I was focusing on when I was LGBT business champion. I think this should also come together with a focus on social mobility, too. We need to see more diverse boards, full stop.