Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Studying LesBians: Dutch study looks into whether a gay friendly work environment is profitable

Studying lesBians is a monthly column about recent and not so recent research on lesbians and the LGBT community as a whole. This month I want to discuss a recent study into profitable effects of a gay friendly work environment.

I am very lucky to work at university, where in general the work environment is very gay friendly. I have always been surrounded by out colleagues and I've never encountered any problems regarding my sexual orientation at work.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky. What makes a work environment gay friendly is probably a combination of several factors, including the line of work you're in and what kind of people work there.

One of the major influences on how gay friendly your place of work is, is the general atmosphere at work, which for a big part is decided by management of the company you work for.

When the people in charge are very positive and open towards people's individual differences, this will influence the rest of the workers as well. Either by seeing sexual orientation is not a big deal or because homophobia isn't tolerated.

There can be many different reasons why the company you work for is gay friendly or not, but a big influence for most bosses is whether something is profitable or not. Therefore, it's much more effective to tell companies being gay friendly can make them money than that it's "the right thing to do".

I was very interested to hear about a research report that was published in the Netherlands last week that looked into the pros of a gay friendly work environment on the Dutch business world (You can read the entire report in Dutch here).

The study was conducted in name of the Dutch ministry of economics, who asked the SEOR to look into it last summer.

Each year Stonewall publishes the Top 100 most gay friendly companies

The first thing I noticed was the difference between how the report was discussed in the gay media and what the report really said. For example, Dutch LGBT youth website Expreszo, wrote that a gay friendly work environment lowers costs and increases market share. In addition, the GayKrant's headline is "Visibility gay workers good for companies."

This is mainly because that's what the press report said that's been sent around, however when you read the actual research report they are far less positive and certain than that. In fact, the main conclusion of the study starts with:

There is insufficient hard evidence to prove that diversity pays and that economic advantages can therefore be gained from effective diversity policy and a good working climate for homosexuals in particular. The business case is therefore not strong.

Now, that doesn't sound very positive to me. I do have to admit that the rest of the report is rather positive and goes into much detail about every way in which having a more gay friendly work environment can benefit companies.

For example, they give specific suggestions what companies could do to be more gay friendly, including giving more recognition and acknowledgement to the specific position of homosexuals at the place of work.

This mainly includes increasing awareness, being supportive and a whole list of other stuff that sort of speaks for itself as things that would improve our positions at work.

Benefits for companies are mainly on the individual level, as if you can be out at work and be yourself without getting hassled, you are a happier and more productive worker, don't call in sick as often etc etc. They name other advantages, but I'm not sure if every company wants things like "a gay friendly image".

They also list reasons that prevent companies from having a gay friendly policy, including management not understanding the importance of diversity policy, they are worried about their image or they simply think there's no need for diversity as they aren't aware of their closeted workers.

Reading through the report I noticed that even though more and more companies have some sort of diversity policy on paper, there are still only few Dutch companies who actively do something with it.

I am not sure whether this is worrying or that perhaps things aren't that bad in many companies and no specific plans need to be in place. Unfortunately, the report doesn't go into detail about this.

The report stresses good reasons to implement diversity plans are that they don't really cost that much, the labour market is changing and becoming more diverse, and the importance of corporate social responsibility. I wonder if that's enough to have those companies that aren't that gay friendly yet switch practices.

All in all it's an interesting and much needed study, but unfortunately like many of these reports, the results aren't very specific or conclusive. They suggest more research is needed to give a clearer picture, which in other words means it will be a while before something will really be done.

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What do you think of this study? How gay friendly is your place of work? Do you wish they had a diversity policy or do you think there's no need for it?

This post was first published on eurout.

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