INTERVIEW: Why supporting gay staff is good business

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Barclays was an early supporter of Stonewall’s efforts to promote equality in the workplace as a member of the Diversity Champions programme. In fact they were the first bank to sign up.

With more than 11 million current accounts in the UK and operations in across the globe, this major company’s support for gay people includes sponsorship of a gay football team and sponsorship of Stonewall events.  It also supports its LGBT staff. spoke to Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, Head of Diversity at Barclays, about why the banking giant thinks gay-friendly policies make good business sense. Barclays operates in more than 50 countries. What are the challenges you face in jurisdictions where homosexuality is a crime?

We are a global company, headquartered in Europe, and our culture comes from the fact that we operate out of the UK.

The kind of standards that we apply in the UK to diversity, we aim to do that throughout every business we operate, to every market in every country.

Clearly there are issues when you go to parts of the world where, for example, the culture or the law is very different from the UK.

You have to take a very pragmatic, case by case approach to this. And it’s very difficult.

We’ve attempted to write policies and procedure and guidelines but it becomes very, very difficult, because almost each case is different.

But philosophically we are trying to apply the same high standards in each country we operate in, taking into account the local law, custom and practice, and also taking into account that high standards will be expected of us as a global organisation.

While the local law, custom or practice may be to discriminate, we would not discriminate and we would not be, I don’t think, expected to discriminate, whereas a small local company might be. It might be acceptable for them to.

If you are in a country where it is illegal to be gay, how do you treat ex-pat employees that are moving in to there that may be gay or locals who may be gay?

That becomes much more complicated and becomes an individual case by case discussion with those people. But we find a way to deal with that, which is hopefully positive for everyone concerned.

Would that include someone who wouldn’t want to take a posting because they couldn’t bring their partner?

Absolutely. And that’s the kind of discussion we would have.

If they were actively seeking a post in a country where that would happen then obviously we would talk them through that and take legal advice to understand fully what the implications were for them and for us.

Is it good business for Barclays to sponsor and support gay events – to be seen as a gay supporter?

Yes of course. Of course it’s good business, but it’s also the right thing to do.

We are a big organisation, globally and in the UK, where we have more than 11 million current accounts.

Businesses, charities, community groups and personal customers who bank with Barclays, obviously a proportion of them are gay, and we obviously want to ensure that we have gay staff and that we are devising the right products and services for all the communities we service.

One thing that is at the top of our agenda at the moment is looking at all the diverse groups that we serve and that we do have the right products and services, packaged and marketed and delivered in the right and most appropriate way.

So obviously there is a commercial element to it.

But of course as what we call a ‘responsible global citizen’ we think it’s absolutely critical that we treat all our customers fairly and respect all the different communities that we operate in, and of course, make money from.

We are here to make money but at the end of the day it’s about how you make money not just about making money.

Was there ever a concern that support for the gay community might effect your business negatively?

Certainly not since I’ve been in this role or in the years preceding that.

Obviously you have to balance what you’re doing.

We do get people who complain about our sponsorship with Stonewall and those people are entitled to their opinion but we’ve made our decision.

It was a strategic decision, and we’ve been doing this a long time. It’s right, it’s deeply embedded into all our business practices in terms of what we do for our colleagues.

If you are going to be sustainable in the long term, you have to serve all the different communities and groups that you operate with.

When we do get complaints, it’s a very tiny number.

I think when we had the Stonewall Awards, the first year the number of complaints we got was literally in single fingers. The same when we sponsored the civil partnership guide four years ago.

Lots of gay people face prejudice and don’t say anything about it. We assume that if anyone had any problems with your staff or services you’d urge them to come forward?

Absolutely. And we don’t just do this and just kind of hope it has an effect.

We measure everything, because as a bank we’ve very interested in numbers.

The way we check in with our lesbian and gay staff is we do an employee opinion survey every year and people are asked anonymously if they’re gay and every single question in there is cut by the different diversity groups.

For example, two years ago in Barclaycard it appeared that the lesbian and gay colleagues there were less engaged than their straight counterparts and we set up a task force and we got independent external consultants to come in and do anonymous focus groups offsite.

They then did a report on what they thought the issues were.

So we don’t just wait for people to tell us there is a problem, and if we find an issue we go out and do something.

It’s like Stonewall say, if you don’t bring all of yourself to work, then you aren’t performing one hundred percent and we want people to be completely relaxed so they can give one hundred percent of themselves at work.

And in terms of the customer side, we are actually just kicking off a piece of work which is following up something we did in 2002, going out and surveying our lesbian and gay customers to understand how their experience is.

For a couple of years running we’ve won the Pink Paper’s Readers Award for Best Bank and we want to build on that and make sure we are really robust in ensuring that we are really the best bank.

How did you come to sponsor a gay football team?

Well, we were approached by the Stonewall Football Club the middle of last year.

They asked if we would consider being their sponsors and I thought that it was a very exciting opportunity, because one of the main kind of associations people make is between Barclays and football.

And football is a key, pivotal part of society nowadays, it’s important to many people, but there is also a perception that football is quite homophobic.

So for me it was a really good opportunity for Barclays to demonstrate that not only are we massive supporters of football but we are also very keen to support all elements of society.

To sponsor a gay football team seemed to be a very public and tangible way of demonstrating both our commitment to football and the lesbian and gay community.

INTERVIEW: Why supporting gay staff is good business