The world is changing, and it is happening right in front of our eyes. The world of business is fast-changing too; for example, with the daily advances in the application of technology and the need for businesses to take the urgent topics of diversity and inclusion (D&I) seriously – to name just a couple. Whether tackling issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism or ableism, never before have companies needed to be ‘equal opportunities employers’ as much as they do now.

And not just to pay lip service, but to be active, engaged and genuine in their crafting of a culture that embraces people’s differences and includes people, no matter what their race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or health (mental or physical).

The time has come for us to stop being defined by what we don’t agree on, but to take on a more mature mantle of co-existing and co-working despite our differences.

So, in this, the first piece of its kind in Grow Exeter, I have collaborated with some leading voices from the D&I conversation, particularly within the context of why businesses should actively seek to embrace and include members of the LGBT+ community. It has been a pleasure to hear their thoughts in their own ‘tone of voice’ and I hope you enjoy reading them too.

It would be remiss of me to go any further without thanking the man whose initial brain-child this was; Lewis Bell from Set2Recruit. Lewis approached me to discuss his idea of raising the profile of the D&I conversation within Exeter after, unfortunately, going through some difficult experiences himself in a previous role. His passion and genuine desire to see members of the LGBT+ community find meaningful, successful roles in their careers (unhindered from the prejudices and obstacles that they are so often faced with) came across strongly and made a lasting impression on me.

In the few days that followed our chat, the residual thought that settled in my mind was that it was time for us as business-people (each affecting the culture within our businesses) to step up to the mark and be counted.

So, let us first hear from Lewis before I introduce you to our contributors…



I get to work in an environment that is open and welcoming and more importantly where I am accepted without prejudice – if anything, just a bit of banter!  This has not always been the case as I’ve been the victim of homophobic taunts in the workplace, and even asked the ‘why did you never say you were gay when you started’ questions (to which I usually responded ‘Well, you never said you were straight!’). I want to live in an age where I don’t have to come out every time I start a new job or meet someone new.

After spending more time with the business community, representing Exeter Pride in 2017, I could see that the professionals of Exeter were wanting to embrace D&I and were wanting to be educated in what it truly involves. This got my brain ticking and really thinking about what I could do to make a positive difference in the business community of Exeter.

I write this on the way to the Diversity in Tech Conference in London, where I will be able to hear from global leaders on how they have been leading the way for D&I in the technology sector.  I hope to gain some more inspiration on how I can help create environments within business across the South West that are truly inclusive; giving people from different races, genders, ages, abilities or sexual orientations, the confidence to be who they want to be and enjoy the careers and successes that they deserve.



Now, let me introduce you to Jake Hobson – Diversity & Inclusion Officer at EY – as he talks about the importance of LGBT+ inclusion in terms of attracting and retaining talent in your company. Over the past few years, D&I has become a business imperative for almost every company as the war on talent gets increasingly more difficult…


At EY, being an inclusive employer is a fundamental part of our business strategy and led from the top of our organisation. That’s because the future of our business depends on our ability to provide innovative solutions for our clients, which can only happen if we recognise and harness the most diverse range of thoughts, experiences, and skills.

In our day-to-day work, we do all we can to create a culture where people feel they belong. Our people tell us they’re happier and more productive when they are free to be their true selves at work and as a result, we’ve seen first-hand how working in more diverse teams improves performance and client satisfaction.

It’s well documented that there is a gender pay gap, following the government’s legislation which all businesses with over 250 employees need to publish their mean and median pay for women and men;  we have even seen some business, such as EY, publishing their ethnicity pay gap which paints a similar story. Another aspect of diversity is focusing on LGBT+ inclusion.

Global companies have made great strides over the past decade in developing and adopting inclusive corporate values statements, personnel policies and codes of conduct regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) people. They also have made significant progress in putting policy into practice — in areas such as creating safe and supportive workplaces, enhancing recruitment and benefits packages, and backing employee groups and ally networks (allies being individuals who are openly supportive of their LGBT+ colleagues).

But why should we even bother talking about this topic in the workplace? Well a recent piece of research by Open for Business, which EY is part of, looked at cities across the world and measured the level of acceptance towards LGBT+ people and found that the most LGBT+ inclusive cities received real benefits to the economy.

The evidence shows that open, inclusive and diverse societies are better for economic growth and that discrimination, based on sexual orientation or gender identity, can damage long-term economic prospects. Businesses also benefit from stronger financial performance due to the increased ability of LGBT+ inclusive companies to attract and retain talent, to innovate, and to build customer loyalty and brand strength.

Nonetheless, it feels wrong to me, as a gay man, that a business should create a “business case” for me to work and feel safe to be who I am without fear of discrimination, bullying or harassment. People say things such as “well there is same-sex marriage now, so what else do we need?” but we need more safe workspaces. Over the past 4 years, LGBT+ hate crimes have increased by 82%, with the trans community experiencing daily abuse from transphobic media outlets externally and experiencing physical violence by a customer or colleague in the workplace.

All businesses have a duty of care to their people they invest in and by creating a culture of openness, acceptance and belonging, we can win the war on talent and not experience “brain drain” where people leave to go to more inclusive cities. Diversity and Inclusion should be at the top of every business leader’s objective.

We are proud that EY globally are a supporter of the United Nations LGBT+ Standards of Conduct for Business and provide practical tips for organisations looking to improve their support of LGBT+ workplace equality through our ‘Making it real – globally’ report.



Next, we hear from Caroline Barnes (Head of D&I at Brewin Dolphin) who looks at the broader reasons for looking at your business’ D&I approach and, importantly, the benefits of doing so…


It’s really important to understand what diversity and inclusion are and to define what they mean to your organisation before you can create a strategy that will drive the right results for you.

Brewin Dolphin is one of the UK’s leading wealth managers, independently-owned and award winning. We offer personalised wealth management services, bespoke to meet the diverse and varied individual needs of our clients. We achieve this because of our talented people, so it’s essential that our diversity and inclusion strategy focusses on providing the best service for our diverse client communities and creating an inclusive culture where our employees can thrive.

Diversity comes in many forms. There are the things we can see such as gender, age and race, but there are many more that we can’t see. How we think, behave and approach things is a culmination of our experiences including how we were brought up, where we’ve lived, where we’ve worked and the people who have influenced us. At Brewin Dolphin we believe that it’s important to build diverse teams who think differently. If everyone agreed with each other and had the same ideas, we wouldn’t be creative or innovative.  Diversity creates the challenge and broader thinking that businesses need to plan for the future and meet diverse client needs.

There’s a saying, “Diversity is being asked to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance”. I really like this analogy and it’s a reminder that the culture we all create together is key to how we feel and perform at work. An inclusive culture is one where employees feel valued, respected and encouraged. People are included as part of the team because their differences in outlook, perspective and background are understood to add value and everyone is fully able to contribute.

Research consistently demonstrates that diverse groups are more effective and deliver better outcomes because they have greater diversity of thought and ideas. McKinsey’s 2017 research on the effects of this on company performance shows that companies in the top quartile for diversity outperform by 21% when gender diverse and 33% when ethnically diverse.

My role is very broad but in essence, has two parts; to advise our senior leaders on strategy and change initiatives that will help us meet our D&I goals and to collaborate with colleagues across the organisation to ensure that our policies, processes and actions encourage a diverse and inclusive workplace. I also chair our Diversity & Inclusion Committee which is made up of employees from across our national network. The Committee sets our D&I objectives and provides strategic direction for promoting diversity and inclusion across the company.

One of our goals is to increase the gender balance in our organisation, particularly at more senior levels where the representation of women is smaller. It’s important to recognise where we are, but what’s even more important is the action we’re taking to change this. Our CEO and Chairman have both joined the ‘30% Club’ which targets FTSE 350 companies with achieving at least 30% female representation on their Boards by 2020. We have also signed the ‘Women in Finance Charter’ which asks financial services companies to set targets for female representation in senior management roles.

As well as hiring more talented females, we have several initiatives to develop our existing employees and prepare them for more senior roles. We have a women’s network called ‘Women@Brewin’ which holds speaker events and discussions on planning and progressing careers. We also have an in-house mentoring scheme, a leadership skills programme and an executive leadership programme. We’ve recently rolled out new technology across the company which enables all employees to work in a more agile way and support the balance of work and home life.

We’re at a relatively early stage of our D&I journey but I’m confident that with the right culture, strategy and leadership we will achieve our goals.



And to tie things together nicely, Luke Dowding (Independent D&I Trainer for businesses, charities and faith groups) talks us through the importance of openness and pro-activity regarding D&I…


Inclusion and diversity have become dirty words: synonymous with paperwork, tax returns, and new-joiner forms. Reasonably, we can appreciate the need for all of these things, but reason rarely features when filing your tax return at 23.59 on the 30th January…

Alarmingly, businesses have lost sight of why the topic of inclusion and diversity is truly important. Of course, a diverse talent pool will access a variety of skills which can be transformed into hitting those revenue targets, and we can all accept that an employee who feels secure in their identity and ability to be themselves at work, is more likely to excel and deliver results.

However, with the mental health of Britain’s millennials the second worst in the world; suicide ranking as the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 and with three in every four suicides being men; and 74% of people feeling so stressed in 2017 that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope, I’d suggest that our responsibility to our employees extends well beyond hitting those all-important KPI’s.

This trend towards an increasingly unhealthy workforce increases when we layer in the issues experienced by marginalised communities: one in ten black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT+ staff (10 percent) have been physically attacked at work in the last year because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, compared to three percent of white LGBT+ staff, as well as almost one in five LGBT+ staff (18 percent) being the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they are LGBT+. This increases to a third of trans people and over a quarter of LGBT+ disabled people.

As we spend more and more time at the office, socialising with our colleagues, or working outside of the office whilst at home or during time off, the burden of responsibility is increasingly resting on employers, management teams and HR specialists. How then might we share some of this responsibility amongst one another?

Discussing and monitoring inclusion and diversity at a company-wide level, whether you’re a team of 20 of 200, is essential in this seemingly daunting task of rectifying this epidemic of homogenous companies and dire mental health. Practically, Stonewall recommends collecting diversity data across pay and grade during the recruitment process and when people exit the business;  offering employees the opportunity to define their own gender or sexual identity in HR forms, ensuring that this doesn’t become another tick box exercise of meaningless data. Charities such as Stonewall can provide employers with case studies on how best to do this for LGBT+ inclusion, and in how to develop transparent policies on recruitment and promotion.

Alongside this, training of all employees is essential. In my own experiences of delivering inclusion and diversity training through bespoke sessions for both small and large groups (www.lukedowding.org), it has become increasingly clear that employees and their managers feel out of their depth and confused as to what is considered to be discriminatory, how it can be tackled, and what the benefits of a diverse team truly are. Equipping your people with knowledge, skills, and insight not only reduces concern and misunderstanding, but it releases the majority to be stewards of inclusion and diversity, not just a select and informed minority. The fruit of such labours become quickly apparent, and we continue to ensure that we are doing our best for all of our employees, both now and in the future.

So, business community of Exeter, let’s step up to the mark. Sometimes the path of least resistance is not the right one to take. Let’s stand up for what is right and create cultures that embrace diversity and include everyone within our businesses.



A collaboration between Joff Alexander-Frye (Grow Exeter), Lewis Bell (Set2Recruit), Caroline Barnes (Brewin Dolphin), Jake Hobson (EY) and Luke Dowding (Independent Diversity & Inclusion Trainer and LGBT+ Campaigner).

Photos from contributors and Flickr (Ted Eytan and Erika Joy)

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