Homophobia costing industry up to £11.2bn/y

A NEW report has warned that institutional homophobia could be costing the UK engineering industry up to £11.2bn/y (US$17bn/y).

Engineering Action: Tackling Homophobia in Engineering, has been co-authored by UK member of parliament Alec Shelbrooke and Mark McBride-Wright, a Chartered Member of IChemE and co-founder of InterEngineering, a support network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) engineers. They warn that 53% of LGBT engineers are keeping their sexuality a secret, fearing bullying and isolation in the workplace. This has a detrimental effect on productivity and resulting GDP (see Boxout)

The report highlights that further action is required within the engineering industry to tackle homophobia and its effect on productivity. Some of the recommendations for industries include establishing new diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies, unconscious bias training, and closer monitoring of employees.

Further actions for government are listed in the report. These include publishing a best practice guide for workplaces, more D&I initiatives, and increasing vocal support of the LGBT community.  

The report includes evidence from a survey by McBride-Wright, who previously reported the findings for The Chemical Engineer magazine. He says that over half of LGBT survey respondents   employed in engineering fear the impact that revealing their sexuality and homophobia would have on their professional careers.

Shelbrooke, a mechanical engineer and aide to the minister for employment, said: “The report recommends that homophobic attitudes can be transformed through proactive, educational teamwork. Companies that have adopted such an approach saw up to 30% increases in productivity from openly LGBT employees as a direct result of a happier and more cohesive workplace.”

Speaking exclusively with The Chemical Engineer McBride-Wright said, “The time to act on the issue is now. I brought together recommendations for the report, which was based on reports that professional services firms published, looking at LGBT inclusion in the workplace.

“This government is all about productivity and if we are missing out on £11.2bn due to non-inclusive working environments for LGBT engineers, then this is clearly low-hanging fruit which industry should grasp and address.”

The recommendations from the report were published one month after The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) published a diversity toolkit for best practice for D&I policies in engineering. The toolkit includes step-by-step guides of how to sustain racial, LGBT, and gender diversity in engineering on a permanent basis. 

The RAEng has laid out a business case for the inclusion policies. They say better inclusion gives greater innovation and creativity due to having varied backgrounds and skill sets. Better financial performance as a result of increased innovation, increased motivation and productivity, due to better employee engagement when they feel included, and improved customer orientation as a diverse workforce will appeal to a wider demographic.    

McBride-Wright said that the report should serve as a “vehicle for implementation” for engineering firms, institutes and the government. He hopes this will encourage the uptake of D&I policies across small, medium and partner companies who may need to access to a wider client, or support base.

“Progress and acceptance within the workplace for those in the LGBT community is hindered by homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language, both in the office and on site,” he added, “Measures for D&I benefit everyone in an organisation. Opening up communication channels, thereby creating transparency and a culture of care will make the workplace a more stimulating and dynamic workplace, where people enjoy coming to work, and therefore perform better.”

IChemE has welcomed the report’s publication and said it will be addressing the challenges faced by LGBT members by adopting unconscious bias training for member volunteers, and will also be creating a diversity webpage – containing diversity policy information, case studies and signposts to other resources available – and launching a member survey to establish the diversity of the chemical engineering community.   

Alana Collis, technical policy manager at IChemE, said, “IChemE believes that the best chemical engineer is the one with the relevant skills to do the job, regardless of gender, race or background. We support the view that a diversity of people will help chemical engineers address the global challenges in the most effective way.”

Alec Shelbrooke and InterEngineering are hosting an event for LGBT equality in engineering at the House of Commons on 29 February, coinciding with LGBT history month. The event is co-sponsored by BP and the RAEng, and will feature presidents and CEOs of engineering institutions in attendance, along with members of parliament and equality activists.  

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