“The more senior you are, the more you can change stuff”
Following the announcement that Barclays is 28th on the Stonewall UK Workplace Equality Index, we talk to Sue Baines, Co-Chair of the bank’s LGBT+ Spectrum Network in the UK and Europe, about being “out” at work, the business case for diversity – and why allies are essential.
“When I joined Barclays in 1990, I hadn’t even come out to myself, let alone in the workplace,” says Sue Baines, Co-Chair of Spectrum, the bank’s LGBT+ Employee Network. “It was only in about 2012 that I decided to ‘out’ myself as a lesbian at work, due to a culmination of factors, from where I was in my career, to the fact I was generally feeling more confident in my own personal journey.”
Sue is speaking at a notable time for the bank, which was recently placed 28th on Stonewall’s UK Workplace Equality Index 2019 – the benchmark tool for employers to measure their progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion.
“I believe passionately that Barclays is trailblazing when it comes to diversity and inclusion,” says Sue. “In the banking sector, we are doing some extraordinary things, not only by providing the right environment for colleagues, but also by trying very hard to create the right environment for our customers, to be inclusive to all, regardless of their vulnerability, whether that be ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation – or financial.”
The Barclays Spectrum Employee Network, which Sue co-chairs, was set up 17 years ago to promote and support diversity and inclusion in the workplace and now has over 3,000 members globally. Its aim is to create an inclusive environment for all across the LGBTQ+ spectrum so Barclays colleagues feel they can be themselves at work. It achieves this through awareness-raising events, promoting dialogue and providing a work environment in which all colleagues can thrive. It also champions ‘dynamic working’, which gives everyone the opportunity to work in a way that compliments their personal circumstances.
Sue says Spectrum has grown in strength and influence in recent years, with its leaders mentoring many other UK companies – from Disney to Marks & Spencer – on the development of their own LGBT+ policies and networks. It now has more ally members – people who don’t identify as LGBT+ but are passionate about the cause and supporting those in that community – than it does LGBT+ members. “This is absolutely vital, as there are more of them than us.”
The network’s impact is clear. Barclays has been the headline partner for Pride in London for the past five years and last year had a strong presence at 22 celebrations of the annual event across Europe. “Pride is so much more than a march, it’s very much an outlet for community engagement.”
“Many of the charities involved have outreach programmes providing year-round support to LGBT+ communities and Barclays participates in that. In Liverpool and Manchester, for example, we provide space each month to a charity that helps young people understand their gender and provides family support services. It’s a great opportunity for children to realise there are others experiencing the same sorts of things they’re going through.”
The business case for diversity
Barclays has long been committed to a global strategy of cultivating the unique talents of every employee regardless of belief, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability – a culture where individuals of all backgrounds feel confident in bringing the whole of themselves to work.
Sue – who was recently voted Woman of the Year in the Barclays Diversity In Business Awards, held to celebrate the pioneering efforts of individuals who create inclusive workplaces globally – says the bank’s senior leaders, from Group Chief Executive Jes Staley down, take diversity and inclusion very seriously. “The reality is, the more senior you are in an organisation, the more opportunity you have to say ‘that’s not good enough’ when you see something not working – and to actually challenge behaviours and practices that do not align with Barclays’ values. Barclays has such a powerful voice to effect change for colleagues and customers, and it’s great to see senior leaders doing this.
“Diversity is not just a ‘nice to have’. If we are to connect with our customers and our clients in a compelling way, we need to think and share their values. The ability to communicate with, engage and serve our customers is enhanced by being a diverse organisation - one that reflects the societies in which we live and work. I’m proud that Barclays was the first to feature a gay couple in advertising and the first bank with a transgender branch manager in the UK.
“It’s exhausting when you’re constantly feeling you can’t be yourself and holding a little bit of yourself back. Feeling safe allows you to be more motivated, so you’ve got more energy to give to your job – and that’s proven by research.”
The bank’s recognition in the Stonewall UK Workplace Equality Index 2019 follows its appearance in the campaigning group’s Top Global Employers list last year, in which it was one of just 13 companies to be listed for their pioneering efforts in creating inclusive workplaces.
The global picture
There is ongoing debate about the role of corporates in the wider diversity conversation.
As a global organisation operating in 50 different countries, Barclays has a presence in places where having a same-sex relationship is considered a crime. The bank has always been clear that it will foster LGBT+ and ally networks and supports these communities wherever they are. In India in 2012, for example, it sponsored ‘KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival’ – India’s first LGBTQ film festival.
“With the geopolitical situation we find ourselves in at the moment, it almost feels like a level of tribalism has returned and people are reverting to stereotypical norms,” says Sue. “With so much more hate crime and a broad suspicion of people who don’t ‘look like me’, this isn’t just an LGBT+ issue – it’s a diversity issue, full stop.”
Any advice for someone wanting to openly identify as a member of the LGBT+ community at work for the first time? “Joining a network within your organisation is a great place to start,” says Sue. “Whether it’s an ethnicity network, faith network – whatever it is, they provide that framework in which you can find people who share your values or circumstances.” At Barclays, there’s the option of wearing an ID pass with the Spectrum logo on the strap – a subtle, sympathetic signpost that tells people they are not alone.
“There are so many benefits to being part of an employee network,” Sue continues. “You can’t underestimate the positive energy you get from supporting colleagues. It releases endorphins in the brain and makes you feel good about the organisation you’re working for and that you are making a difference to your working environment. So why wouldn’t you?
“As a relatively senior member of the team and an out lesbian I feel I can encourage other people to bring their whole selves to work” Sue concludes. “My own experience of coming out at work has been more than positive – it’s been truly transformational with respect to my career progression and the confidence I’ve gained.”