Fifty years since the Stonewall Riots in New York's Greenwich Village propelled the gay rights movement, the diversity debate is firmly on the agenda. Find out why and how businesses should promote diverse work environments with a mix of genders, ethnicities, sexualities, nationalities and life experiences.

Mikaela Tyrrell always knew she was different, but never thought she could do anything about it. Born into a male body, the outwardly successful web developer suffered in silence for decades until two years ago when it became too much and she broke down. Emboldened by the support of friends, she set up a new Facebook profile as Mikaela but didn't anticipate what would happen next.

"All my work colleagues got notified about it on Facebook, so I accidentally came out to everybody at work. When I came into the office the next day, everyone was talking about it."

Mikaela Tyrell    

What happened next set the tone for the rest of Mikaela's transition and her future work journey at Dealtrak, a finance software platform.

She says, "My director took me to one side and asked how I wanted to proceed – he let me take the lead on it. He asked me to write an email addressing my transition, things like my new name and pronouns. By the end of the day, our IT people had updated my name and email address on our systems and colleagues were supportive."

Having a place where I could come to work every day and not feel awkward was very comforting.

Mikaela felt confident enough to identify as transgender and begin her transition thanks to growing public awareness of transgender rights. Charities like Stonewall – named after the 1969 riots – campaign to promote greater awareness and understanding. This summer's Pride parade in London is set to be the biggest, most diverse event for the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The business case for diversity

Embracing diversity in all its forms at work is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do. Consultancy company McKinsey published a ground-breaking study in 2015 - Why Diversity Matters - which found that diverse companies have the commercial edge. Further McKinsey research published in 2018 backs this up.

Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are around 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Those in the top quartile for gender diversity in the C-suite are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than their peers in the bottom quartile.

According to the McKinsey report, it makes sense that a diverse and inclusive employee base is "more competitive" in a globalised economy. As more companies expand into new territories, a workforce with a range of nationalities and ethnicities can give a company the edge.

Mike Buonaiuto, founder and executive director at Shape History, a social change communications agency based at The Record Hall in Farringdon, explains what it means in practice.

He says, "We can produce a campaign in Brazilian Portuguese but if it doesn't resonate with the right local nuances, it won't do its job in effecting global change. As businesses operate on a more global perspective, they need diverse teams with lived experience. It creates a better product overall as it's more fit for purpose for your customers."

How can businesses foster greater diversity?

There are plenty of options to suit all businesses great and small, says Chico Chakravorty, managing director at BAME Recruitment. A "blind CV" policy can be a novel way of attracting a wider pool of talent, as long as companies have confidence that those interviewing have undertaken awareness training and conduct their interviews with minimal bias that could affect the outcome. EY banned CVs from its trainee application scheme in 2015 along with its minimum 2:1 degree requirement. Other businesses have since followed – The Economist is hiring a writer to cover sub-Saharan Africa but you don't even need to be a journalist to apply.

Chico Chakravorty, Managing Director at BAME, speaks up at Workspace's WBI Dinner: Investment and Algorithms - Tackling Diversity and Bias Challenges in Business, at The Record Hall

Chico says, "Understanding that a university education isn't necessarily the be all and end all. Just because you have someone that performs well academically, it doesn't automatically translate that they will perform well professionally."

Tone of language in job ads is crucial to sending out the right message. "A female looking at a job spec that may sub-consciously see a man as being prioritised for that job and be put off depending on the language that the description uses. An example of this may well be the use of the word "manage" which is proven to reduce the number of female senior talent, compared to using similar words such as lead or develop," explains Chico.

Larger companies struggling to attract a wide pool of candidates may consider hiring a specialist third party. The Mayor of London's office put out a job ad last year for a head of marketing and head of creative, but only received around 70 applications from a fairly homogenous set of candidates.

It hired BAME Recruitment who then launched a dual branded campaign, which attracted almost ten times more applications with nearly 7 in 10 coming from diverse backgrounds that included BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic), disability, LGBT+ and women.

Diversity is only part of the equation though. Chico explains, "It's great to have diverse representation in the workforce but you need a sense of inclusion. If you run a campaign to attract people that haven't been to university to your workforce but don’t enable them to have a voice in the company, you won't get the best out of them."

Strength lies in differences, not in similarities

Stephen R. Covey, bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

To encourage a greater sense of inclusion, businesses can nominate a member of staff as an equality and diversity champion, to act as a point of support for others and to help spread the diversity message. Mikaela is the equality and diversity champion at Dealtrak; she has invited friends from a local charity to speak about what it means to be transgender in front of the entire company.

Businesses that are serious about showing their commitment to being inclusive to LGBT+ employees can also join the Open for Business coalition, which includes American Express, Deutsche Bank, Google, Tesco, Virgin and more. Open for Business presents the business rationale that "successful, enterprising businesses thrive in diverse, inclusive societies and the spread of anti-LGBT+ policies run counter to the interests of business and economic growth".

Positive stories like Mikaela's and the Mayor of London's campaign are encouraging, but LGBT+ acceptance is far from universal. It's still illegal to be gay in over 70 countries and punishable by death in seven, although in recent weeks Ecuador, Botswana and Brazil have all made strides in legislative equality for LGBT+ populations. Mikaela says, "My situation was handled respectfully so I've been quite fortunate, but I hear horror stories of bullying in the trans community."

Find out more about how to tackle the power dynamic of toxic masculinity to make way to better working practices in this blog authored by Mike Buonaiuto, founder at Shape History.

To read more about the economic and business case for LGBT+ inclusion, take a look at some of the programmes created by advocate group, Open for Business. By working together in the Open For Business coalition, hand-in-hand with civil society groups on-the-ground, businesses can make a real impact in some of the most challenging countries.