LGBTQ+ network leaders on why their work is so vital: ‘Creating a sense of belonging matters’

This is an image of 4 colleagues gathered together laughing and smiling.

PinkNews speaks to LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG) leaders to find out how LGBTQ+ employee networks help shape inclusive policies beyond Pride Month.

An inclusive company that values a diverse workforce does not come about naturally or solely from senior leadership. The fact is, many of the progressive policies and initiatives companies take on originate from an employee resource group.

As anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the United States impact everything from where the community decides to take up work to a lack of accessible gender-affirming care, and the UK contends with troubling advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over how ‘sex’ is defined in the Equality Act, there has never been a more important time for businesses to look after and support their LGBTQ+ employees.

In most cases, these ERGs are volunteer-led, meaning that those who are involved are because they are committed to an inclusive workplace. LGBTQ+ employee networks play a pivotal role in creating and maintaining an inclusive and supportive work environment for queer employees. This includes advising senior leadership around initiatives like parental leave, Pride Month initiatives and even how to address gender-affirming care and transition policies.

PinkNews gathered some LGBTQ+ ERG leads from tech, manufacturing, hospitality and retail to talk about how these employee-led networks impact the work experience for the LGBTQ+ community.

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This is a professional headshot for Kevin McKee. He is wearing a blue shirt unbuttoned with a white tee under neath. He has bright blue hair.
Kevin McKee is a senior research scientist at Google Deepmind and co-leads the company’s QueerMinds ERG. (Kevin McKee/Google Deepmind)

Kevin McKee, senior AI researcher at Google DeepMind

“We’re lucky to have a really vibrant queer community within Google DeepMind. Many LGBTQ+ scientists experience hostile and unfriendly environments. It’s sad, and I think that many scientists move through their careers expecting not to be fully open about important parts of their identity.

“I think we’ve been able to offer a visible and welcoming space for our community and our allies through QueerMinds, our LGBTQ+ employee group. We organise social activities around Pride month, Trans Day of Visibility, and other important moments throughout the year. The group also often meets to discuss the intersections between AI research, the tech industry, and our identities.

“It makes me especially happy when I hear from new team members that QueerMinds helped them feel included and comfortable when they joined the organisation.”

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This is a photo of Greg Turner-Smart. He is wearing a green sweater.
Greg Turner-Smart is the inclusion manager at Rolls-Royce SMR. (Greg Turner-Smart)

Greg Turner-Smart, inclusion manager at Rolls-Royce SMR

“ERGs are a great way to build inclusion. They offer support to those that need it; they give professional development opportunities that might not otherwise come about; they provide a voice to more people; they expand personal and professional networks; they give visibility to people, topics and issues that might not typically be under the spotlight, and much, much more.

“But most importantly, they help foster and embed a feeling of belonging that can really change how an individual feels about going to work, giving them the confidence and encouragement needed to succeed.

“ERGs should take a professional approach to their work – they are much more than just a ‘social club’. When ERGs are governed like any other team in a business – with objectives, goals, a strategy, a plan, a budget – then they have a clear understanding of what success looks like and a means to demonstrate that success. And just like other priorities, ERGs should be aligned to a business strategy and their members should be trained in the skills needed to achieve their goals.

“ERGs should also be fun to be a part of, but ultimately they are there to enhance business performance and this should be central to how they operate.”

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This is an image of Matt Case. He has brown hair, blue eyes, and is wearing a blue coloured button up shirt.
Matt Case heads up the Bar + Block restaurants as part of the hospitality group Whitbread. (Matt Case)

Matt Case, head of Bar + Block at Whitbread

“Creating a sense of belonging matters to people and we know appreciation of diverse representation can create community, safe spaces and celebration. This, unfortunately, is not something everyone has access to in their local area and while social media has improved the way we can connect, the LGBTQ+ networks create more ways to create that sense of belonging, inclusion and celebration while also addressing important topics and education.

“[ERGs] are a way for under-represented groups to have an amplified voice that is heard and appreciated. ERGs also signal to the community themselves that this is something that is taken seriously, their voice is heard and this is a safe place to be ‘out’.

“Networks often promote collaboration and ways of working that can sometimes be difficult to achieve. A diverse group of people, with skills and experience with a  common purpose can help to change a culture. Driving change and making businesses more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community is an important part that a network can play, working alongside people functions and with the sponsorship of senior executives.”

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This is an image of Kavita Kapoor, she is wearing a green dress over a white top and is holding a medal.
Kavita Kapoor is an IT professional and the chair of the Pride network at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT. (Kavita Kapoor)

Kavita Kapoor, chair of Pride at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT

“LGBTQ+ employee networks are essential for the community for several reasons. Research shows that people are happier when they have friends at work and a thriving employee network group can help LGBTQIA+ folks feel less isolated. Employee networks can raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and be a sounding board when creating LGBTQIA+ to support the business. 

“LGBTQ+ employee networks are known for improving policies and practices by running training programs to inform employees about LGBTQ+ issues and how to be effective allies and provide knowledge to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ inclusion, which can help reduce harassment and discrimination based on gender and orientation.”

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This is an image of Ben Jackson. He is sitting at a table and is in mid-sentence. He is wearing a green shirt and his hands are on a table.
Ben Jackson is the head of inclusion and diversity at the home improvement retailer Wickes. (Ben Jackson/Wickes)

Ben Jackson, head of inclusion and diversity at Wickes

“Having a network or ERG is a great sign of inclusive intent. They enable existing and new colleagues to feel that their identity is valued and that their identity and who they are, is as of much importance to the business as their work.

“Networks bring like-minded people together and provide a strong sense of community and support. The networks do need to have a purpose – they do need to support the business to make change – but for me, the most valuable role of the networks is to simply bring people together, that otherwise might feel isolated.

“Representation is key: it would be crazy for a bunch of men to decide on future menstruation or menopause policies for a business on behalf of women and those who menstruate. Likewise, building a transitioning at-work policy or a policy for same-sex parenting support should not be solely created by those that do not have the lived experience to really create the best version of those policies. Leaders should always consider using the networks when creating or changing policy – they’re an expert resource that can ensure any potential blind spots are avoided.

“In terms of creating a better working experience, if done right, the networks can be empowered to really engage with the community they represent, and provide a collective and amplified voice where improvements need to be made. Ensuring each network has an active and engaged exec sponsor is also really powerful: it will make sure that there are more opportunities to have the community voice heard.”

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