Why community engagement not only makes good sense…but good business sense

I’m very fortunate, during my time as Chair of OUTbound I have got to work with some great brands supporting projects that I felt very strongly about. Thankfully these brands understood that high profile projects supporting LGBT+ diversity actually makes good business sense.  I’m even more gratified because raising that kind of cash from a public sector titan like TfL would have been impossible.

There’s a thought though that spending money on diversity is money thrown away; I mean why bother to wrap bus in a rainbow? Why do we need a taxi that informs people how to report hate crime? And 48 diversity pedestrian signals sprinkled around Trafalgar Square isn’t really going to change the world is it?

It’s not. But what it is going to do is attach a sense of pride to your organisation as somewhere – as in this case – LGBT+ people can work, feel comfortable and above all be authentic. So here lies the crux of the argument; the more people that are able to be themselves the less time they spend thinking about other things. They don’t need to develop multiple personalities and that part of the amygdala in the brain devoted to handling those personalities can be used for something else. Something more productive.

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So for a business like Barclays – who sponsored our ‘Trainbow’ last year – what was in it for them? Firstly (and of course I would say this) they got to work with an iconic big brand like TfL. But it was actually a bit more than that. They opted for the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) train rather than a more iconic Tube train (I offered them both) because it was a very visible symbol. The train ran past their head office between Canary Wharf and Stratford, but most importantly it ran past the financial sector. Separating their business from the myriad of other financial business in the area set them apart.

Hundreds of thousands of people saw the Trainbow, and some of those people may have gone on to work for Barclays (or TfL) as result. Some may have been inspired to be themselves and others may have thought differently about either business. Of all the comments I read about the Trainbow – and there were hundreds – only one or two didn’t get it. That’s mainstreaming diversity at its very best!

Increasing the diversity of your organisation or changing the thinking of your colleagues leads to better decision making. Because the more diverse your business is, the more profitable it is. That’s not a mumbo-jumbo statistic, it’s fact. In TfL’s case being a monopoly supplier, it’s adding to productivity – and in a constrained financial climate that’s how you squeeze out cost.

It’s not just a gay thing either. You could equally apply this kind of community engagement for other protected categories such as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) or for disability or gender diversity.

But it’s a difficult connection for some people to make. As someone who is fascinated by theories around how the brain works I constantly question my own decision making as a result. I know I can be a ‘passionate’ S.O.B. sometimes, but when I want to get my message across I know some of the best decisions I have made are when I have socialised my ideas and got a more diverse view on things. That’s what happens in business at C-Suite level, and that’s what happens when you diversify your organisation.

So what happens if you are not a big retail brand like Barclays? Associate with one. Your business then becomes synonymous with diversity.

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I recently worked with Siemens Traffic (not big on the high street) on our diversity pedestrian signals who sponsored the entire project. Those lights have gone on to create more headlines than almost anything else we have done. The lights will soon become part of a London Transport Museum display and thousands more people will see them. These people will hopefully be inspired and Siemens Traffic will find themselves being seen as a more diversely aware company as a result. Job done.

So when someone says to you that community engagement in the LGBT+ spectrum is all about putting a float in Pride once a year, and that doing well in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index is all you need to do.  Think again – or your competitors might.

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