7 April 2017 | By Ian Johnson Community

Is self-ID an inclusive strategy?

Corporate inclusion managers are implementing “self identification” as a big step forwards in their organisations. But how smart is it to base your LGBT inclusion strategies on data gathered from this process?

In today’s competitive human talent environment, one way to excite management is with HR data. Especially data that supports an aspirational view of the business and its achievements.

But decisions based on incomplete - or skewed - data are rarely optimal. Data is only ever as good as the methodologies behind it.

“Self-identification” involves employees at an enterprise indicating their sexual orientation and gender identity on an internal staff survey, usually overseen by HR.

This potential to collect and analyse responses from people willing to “self-ID” as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) employees offers an apparently useful source of data that can inform decisions by diversity and inclusion managers, HR and others.

One of the biggest fears keeping people in the closet at work is worry over who knows 

But an inherent weakness of self-ID limits its efficacy to drive further positive changes over time in any organisation relying on it.

In 2015, Out Now released a study measuring the dollar value and percentage impacts of people feeling able to safely “come out” as LGBT to colleagues at work.

LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case reveals potential inclusion gains for the UK economy exceed $1bn.

Respondents are 10 per cent more likely to stay with a current employer when they feel able to come out as LGBT and productivity increases by 32 per cent.

It is people currently “in the closet” at work who are key to unlocking this potential value. The report's results showed moving these people along the “coming out” continuum should be the objective of well implemented inclusion policies. These policies are only able to deliver substantial returns on investment by creating environments where employees feel more able to come out.

Therein lies the weakness of self-ID. Identification. One of the biggest fears keeping people in the closet at work is worry over who knows this key piece of information. Many respondents to Out Now’s LGBT2030 study feel unable to come out because of fears about career progression.

A self-ID strategy risks reinforcing a culture that works for a small part of their total LGBT workforce

In that situation, probably the last people you would risk trusting with such a personal piece of information at work would be HR. People most likely to feel comfortable to do so are those who are already out to most - if not all - of their colleagues.

This risks a feedback loop where people who self-ID in an internal staff survey skew results towards the concerns of people who are able to come out in their current workplace culture.

LGBT benchmarking - independent, fully anonymised surveys open to all members of client workforces – are the answer.

Enterprises need to understand that a self-ID strategy risks reinforcing a culture that works for a small part of their total LGBT workforce. Most LGBT people in the UK (55 per cent) do not presently feel able to come out to everyone at work, so we need to learn what changes in culture help them.

It’s not about bolstering a PR initiative. It’s about identifying the best ways to improve outcomes for LGBT people - and their employers. Otherwise self-ID risks turning into corporate self-delusion. 

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