Let's smash the Rainbow Ceiling - RSA

Let's smash the Rainbow Ceiling


  • Picture of Ben Oliver
    Ben Oliver
    RSA Head of News and Public Affairs
  • Business and entrepreneurship
  • Diversity and inclusion

Reflecting on Layla McCay’s recent RSA talk, Ben Oliver offers five ways that employers can create a positive culture for their LGBTQ+ staff that benefits both the individual and the organisation.

This Pride Month, we were thrilled to welcome Director of Policy at the NHS Confederation, author, and LGBTQ+ advocate Layla McCay to RSA House for a Public Talk about her book Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling. 

As Layla explained: “It is in every employer’s interest to have a diverse workforce.” Indeed, all her research demonstrates that organisations with diverse talent perform better. They have better productivity and benefit from “a wider range of perspectives that make them more creative, innovative and resilient”.

In her book, she outlines “three key steps to realising this so-called ‘diversity dividend’: 1. recruit and retain a workforce and board full of diverse characteristics; 2. make sure these people are all able to thrive and develop within the workplace to reach their full potential; and 3. empower, value and meaningfully include people in all their diversity in creativity, analysis and decision-making.” 

If you are a manager, or a senior leader, and you're an LGBTQ+ person, probably the most impactful thing that you can do for inclusion is to be publicly, visibly out.

Layla McCay

Takeaways from the talk

As part of #RSAPride, here are five learnings from Layla’s inspiring talk and discussion about how employers can help create a positive culture that supports their LGBTQ+ staff and removes the rainbow ceiling for the benefit of individuals and organisations.

1) Be genuinely curious and interested in your LGBTQ+ employees

Layla asks: “How much do you really know about your LGBTQ+ staff in terms of what their experiences are like at work?” She recommends using your staff survey to find out. Break it down, segment it and analyse the differences along diversity lines to see where people are having the best or worst experience. Then explore what you can do about that. Similarly, look at disproportionate under-representation in senior roles. If that's the case, why is that? 

2) Create a safe and respectful environment for staff to ‘come out’ if they want to. 

This isn’t just about office culture. Layla recounts the need for policies and processes to be examined in terms of their impacts on different people. Contributors to her book reflected on how much of a sense of value and belonging they got when they needed a particular policy – maybe a surrogacy policy or a transition policy – and they looked at their intranet and there it was. Somebody had already thought about it and valued them enough to anticipate and invest in their needs. There are lots of policy and procedure opportunities to proactively support LGBTQ+ people before they even know that they need it.

3) Get the practical stuff right – especially where IT is involved.

Layla states: “There are all sorts of IT shenanigans that can really be made a bit more inclusive.” She recalls two particular contributor stories. The person who observed that “nothing makes you feel more othered like having to tick the ‘other’ box” when confirming their gender identity for HR. Or the individual who ticked ‘lesbian’ but couldn’t save the form until she’d added a start and end date… 

4) Train managers effectively

Often prejudice and discrimination comes down to lack of knowledge, so managers and teams need appropriate diversity training that specifically covers LGBTQ+ issues. These issues also need to be addressed within an organisation’s talent management strategy. As Layla explains: “We know that the things affecting LGBTQ+ people are not necessarily the same things that are affecting other members of staff… but we’re not designing talent management pipelines around those particular considerations. There's lots of opportunity to do that.”

5) Be a visible role model

Layla observes that “if you are a manager, or a senior leader, and you're an LGBTQ+ person, probably the most impactful thing that you can do for inclusion is to be publicly, visibly out.” In doing so, it changes people's aspirations and it's really important for more junior LGBTQ+ staff to have role models within their organisations. 

Ben Oliver is Head of News and Public Affairs at the RSA.

RSA Fellows can join the conversation about how organisations can increase their support of LGBTQ+ employees by heading to Circle.

Layla McCay’s book, Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling, can be ordered here.

Are you a Fellow and consider yourself a member of the LGBTQ+ community? Our LGBT Fellowship Network is always looking for new collaborators to help drive cultural change around diverse and inclusive LGBT+ issues.

It does this through a series of lectures, creative interventions and networking events designed to reduce stigma and sterotyping of LGBT+ people.

Join the LGBT Network

Fellowship Networks

Enriching society through diversity, the RSA LGBT Network organises events that reduce the stigma and stereotyping of LGBT+ people.

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