Workplace Guides: Career Development

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The Business Case

This section outlines:


What is career development?

Career development is how employees and employers take steps to further an employee’s career opportunities. It is known in some organisations as career management, staff development, or personal and professional development.

Career development can include supporting staff to seek opportunities for promotion, but is not necessarily just about furthering an employee’s potential to progress vertically through an organisation; the focus can be on broadening their skills and helping staff identify potential ways in which they can develop, both personally and professionally.

Developing career opportunities for staff can range from simply providing employees with information about the opportunities open to them to providing targeted training opportunities to help develop skills.
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Why is career development important?

Career development:

  • Makes employees feel more confident and valued
  • Helps employees identify all available opportunities and enables them to reach their full potential
  • Improves staff satisfaction and retention
  • Makes workforces more productive and skilled
  • Makes an organisation more attractive to potential recruits
  • Makes an organisation more reflective of our diverse society

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Why do lesbian and gay employees need career development opportunities?

Lesbian and gay people can face a number of barriers that can prevent or restrict their career development in an organisation.

These can include:

  • Discriminatory attitudes from managers. Some managers may deliberately avoid providing career development opportunities for lesbian and gay staff.
  • A reluctance to leave a job where an employee feels secure. Lesbian and gay staff may wish to avoid situations where they have to come out again, and risk working with others who may be homophobic.
  • Concern about informal mechanisms for career development. Some lesbian and gay staff may not feel comfortable networking with senior heterosexual colleagues who they worry might hold discriminatory attitudes about gay people.
  • Anxiety about homophobia from outside the organisation. In certain sectors, more senior staff receive a higher level of public scrutiny and greater contact with important clients and customers. Lesbian and gay staff may be anxious about aspects of their private life being made public and also the effect this may have on relations with clients. They may well lack confidence in their organisation to provide them with support.

Lesbian and gay staff often have to think about how to come out to other members of staff and sometimes may avoid  situations where this is necessary. Coming out can therefore be a significant barrier to career development. Creating a culture where staff are out, and it is not a secret, is key to tackling this concern. Developing and promoting initiatives specifically to support the career development of lesbian and gay employees is important in creating this culture and overcoming the barrier coming out creates.


Staffordshire Police offers targeted career development opportunities to lesbian and gay staff, through the High Potential Development Scheme. This scheme has encouraged staff to come out. Staff recognise that the scheme is a clear indication of the Force’s commitment to lesbian and gay staff and that the training responds specifically to their needs as gay staff. Staffordshire Police feel that their staff perform better when they are able to be themselves and the scheme encourages this.

Addressing the career development needs of specific groups of employees is not new. Many organisations have well established programmes to address the career development of female, disabled and black and minority ethnic employees (BME). The career development needs of lesbian and gay employees can be similar to those of other groups. Organisations should not feel afraid of adapting and learning lessons from existing programmes designed for other groups. By consulting lesbian and gay employees, employers can easily identify how best to do this.

Career development opportunities for lesbian and gay people can include:

  • Tailored training for lesbian and gay staff
  • The promotion of generic training proactively to lesbian and gay staff
  • The development of lesbian and gay mentoring schemes
  • Tailored and targeted support to individuals who are lesbian or gay
  • The promotion and celebration of openly gay leaders and role models

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The benefits for organisations

PROMOTES DIVERSITY OF PERSPECTIVE By developing the careers of lesbian and gay employees throughout the organisation and providing them with the potential to reach leadership positions, employers encourage a diversity of different perspectives throughout all levels of the organisation. This diversity of perspectives makes organisations more responsive, creative and flexible.

EXPANDS THE SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE POOL By identifying gaps in the skills and knowledge of lesbian and gay employees, and by providing opportunities for those gaps to be filled, an organisation expands its pool of skills and knowledge. Having a better skilled workforce improves productivity, competitiveness and organisational flexibility.

IMPROVES COMPETITIVENESS IN RECRUITMENT In developing the careers of lesbian and gay employees an organisation is demonstrating a serious commitment to employing and promoting lesbian and gay employees. This makes organisations far more appealing in a competitive employment market.

BOOSTS RETENTION Employees who are offered opportunities which develop and challenge them are more likely to feel motivated and committed to the organisation.

TACKLES DISCRIMINATION By identifying and challenging obstacles to the careers of individual lesbian and gay employees, an organisation is demonstrating its commitment to tackling inequality of opportunity. Tackling this inequality is one of the most cost effective ways to avoid costly and damaging employment tribunals. In turn, by levelling the playing field, an organisation makes it easier to identify continuing patterns of discrimination.

REFLECTS YOUR CUSTOMER BASE When lesbian and gay staff work at all levels of an organisation, lesbian and gay people outside the organisation may be more confident that their needs and concerns will be understood. This increases customer confidence.


Citi believes that it is working in an increasingly sophisticated and competitive employment market where the best potential recruits expect, and view as standard, to be offered development opportunities by potential employers. To improve their chances of attracting and retaining the best employees Citi feel they need to offer the widest possible range of development opportunities. They recognise that lesbian and gay staff, along with other under-represented groups, may have challenges with career development, and therefore have developed training with these concerns in mind.


The Home Office believes that a diversity of employees across all levels leads to a diversity of perspectives. This diversity of perspectives leads to better policies and better customer service for the community they serve. In order to achieve this diversity of perspectives, lesbian and gay people need to be employed across the organisation.

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The benefits for lesbian and gay employees

IMPROVES THEIR OWNERSHIP OF THEIR CAREER Through the process of identifying their ideal career path, filling gaps in their skills and knowledge and identifying potential opportunities for promotion, employees feel more in control of their career progression. As a result they will be more motivated and confident.

INCREASES RESPONSIBILITY AND INVOLVEMENT Staff who benefit from career development opportunities are likely to feel that their work and efforts are being recognised and are therefore likely to be more flexible, undertaking greater risks and responsibilities.

DEVELOPS THEIR SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE By identifying skills and knowledge gaps of employees, and providing training to fill these gaps, employees are likely to be more productive. This is likely to lead to an increase in job satisfaction.

INCREASES THEIR COMMITMENT TO THEIR ORGANISATION Staff who feel valued and trusted are more likely to feel committed to their place of work. Lesbian and gay staff who are supported to take risks and develop their career will feel happier and prouder of their organisation.

IMPROVES COMMUNICATION WITH THEIR EMPLOYER Lesbian and gay staff who are able to discuss their career development needs with their manager, and feel that their employer responds to those needs, are more likely to feel able to discuss other
issues and concerns with their employer.


Citi has found that by focusing on their mid-career female employees, through targeted leadership training, those employees have developed increased self-confidence and career planning skills and begun to apply for more opportunities. They are therefore more likely to progress in their careers. Citi recognise that the lessons they have learnt with their female staff can be replicated with other groups.


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The benefits for clients, customers and potential employees

MAKES ORGANISATIONS MORE RESPONSIVE TO CLIENTS’ AND CUSTOMERS’ NEEDS By encouraging a diverse workforce, where people can be themselves, organisations can become more creative and flexible. This in turns makes it easier for them to respond to the needs of their customers and clients.

IMPROVES QUALITY OF SERVICE Staff who are given opportunities to challenge and develop themselves and are provided with support by their employer will be more effective in their work. For those who deal directly with customers and clients, this will result in better relations with them and a better quality of service.


Liverpool John Moores University believe that it is important to develop the careers of lesbian and gay staff and make them more visible within the organisation. This enables them to demonstrate to the university’s students, who are also potential recruits, that sexual orientation is no bar to career progression. Career development opportunities give the next generation of academics confidence that lesbian and gay people can progress in academia.


Citi feels that their clients and customers are expecting more from the organisation, and by encouraging a diverse and creative workforce they are better equipped to respond to their requirements.


Staffordshire Police’s career development initiatives are aimed at not only making the force more reflective of the community they serve but also to make it more productive. Staffordshire Police want the force to perform as effectively as possible and the confidence and commitment of staff is crucial. This, in turn, improves the community’s confidence in the police force.

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