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LGBTI+ education key to driving change in workplaces and schools

AIB striving to create a workforce that is ‘representative of Ireland Inc’

‘We are creating a much more open environment where people can be who they want to me at work and not have to hide,’ says AIB’s Michelle McGreal

‘We are creating a much more open environment where people can be who they want to me at work and not have to hide,’ says AIB’s Michelle McGreal

 

Education in workplaces as well as in our schools and colleges will be critically important in driving change in Ireland in relation to LGBTI+ issues.

The overall environment for diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues generally and LGBTI+ in particular has improved greatly, not least as a result of educational efforts on the part of many individual organisations.

“It’s not just about LGBTI+, we are educating workforce on all aspects of diversity and inclusion,” says Michelle McGreal, head of D&I with AIB.

“Our D&I journey began in 2014. We had been very focused on equality before that, but we knew we had to do more. We had a bit of a challenge at the top as regards the number of women in senior positions and we decided to focus on gender equality initially. From 2017, we started to focus on other areas. We asked staff what they wanted us to do and they named six areas – women, men, family, ability, roots, and Pride.”

That triggered a programme of educational activity throughout the organisation. “We set about educating our workforce on what these six areas mean and how staff can make a difference in relation to them. The activity is led from the top but is very much driven by employees.”

Initiative

Employee resource groups were set up for each area and they have since run a series of masterclasses to educate people and enable them to become involved in the initiative.

“One of these masterclasses related to LGBTI+ allies,” McGreal adds.

“What is it like to be an ally? How do you support a son, daughter, friend or work colleague who is a member of the LGBTI+ community? We have created an ally pack for people with dos and don’ts and so on and that has been very powerful. Our aim is to have a workforce that is representative of Ireland Inc. That will take a few years, but we are on the journey.”

It’s a question of policy first and education and cultural change after that. “We have done a huge amount of work to address unconscious bias, for example,” she explains.

“We have put more than 2,000 people through training in that. We used actors to show what it is like to work in an organisation where you can’t be yourself and to make people aware of their own biases. We have made that training available to all employees on our e-learning platform. That was a very big piece of education. Overall, we are creating a much more open environment where people can be who they want to me at work and not have to hide.”

Paul Gillen, employment partner with law firm Pinsent Masons, believes education is key to every aspect of diversity and inclusion.

“This is why our LGBT+ and Allies Networks engage with external organisations to keep up to speed with developments in this field,” he says. “By doing this we can see where we need to develop as an organisation. We have worked for a number of years with Stonewall and the Rainbow Project to educate our network and to learn best practice. We pass on learning and knowledge to others, including helping other organisations to develop their own D&I strategy and networks and encourage them to become involved together. This is across businesses, charities and education providers.”

Inclusion

Some examples of Pinsent Masons’ activity in the area include working with a large school to help develop their strategy for LGBT inclusion and to assist with their trans policy; support for the Stonewall Education Programme; training role models and mentors to help in schools to eradicate homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying; and providing pro bono training for teachers in order to spot bullying and deal with it effectively.

“We are also founding members of Working with Pride, a group of organisations who meet to discuss LGBT policy, to consider lobbying and also for social events,” says Gillen. “We support Business4LoveEquality to deliver equal marriage across the island of Ireland and our family support network is there to support those with LGBT family members.”

This activity has been recognised through several awards including being named as top employer on the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. “We are proud of what we do and even prouder to continue to develop LGBT+ equality internally, with clients and within society as a whole,”says Gillen.

Professor Andreas Hoepner, UCD College of Business VP of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, explains that the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School is one of 650 signatories worldwide to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME). This UN initiative was established in 2007 as a platform to raise the profile of sustainability in schools around the world, and to equip today’s business students with the understanding and ability to deliver change tomorrow.

PRME’s mission is to transform academic institutions to become advocates for an inclusive and sustainable global economy by incorporating values of business responsibility and sustainability into their teaching, research, and thought leadership. This includes embracing diversity and a strong commitment to promoting LGBTI+ equality both within the school and in its courses and programmes where appropriate.