Workplace Guides: Career Development

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Good Practice Examples of Career Development Initiatives


This section outlines:

This section explores some initiatives that organisations have put in lace to support the career development of their lesbian and gay staff. These include training opportunities but also wider cultural changes that can have an impact on lesbian and gay people's confidence to seek out and pursue opportunities for development.

Opportunities created by network groups

Network groups are not only both a valuable consultative body and sounding board on potential career development initiatives, but they can play a crucial role in delivering career development opportunities to lesbian and gay employees.

Many organisations value the skills that individuals develop when they get involved with network groups, and therefore setting up a lesbian and gay network group with elected positions can be a useful step in providing lesbian and gay employees the opportunity to
develop their skills. Encouraging employees to run for elected positions and being flexible in allowing them time to undertake their positions successfully, is a simple first step organisations can make in offering career development opportunities to lesbian and gay employees.

The Home Office trains the elected committee members of all its network groups with skills that are valuable in their own careers. It is currently training committee members in the legal basis of all equality and diversity work to increase their knowledge of equality and diversity issues across all strands. This in turn will enable them to provide support to other employees and to identify equality and diversity issues within the organisation. The Home Office recognises the unique role that lesbian and gay people can play in championing equality issues across the organisation but understands that gay people need support and training to do this effectively.

All of Lloyds TSB's network groups, including the lesbian, gay and bisexual network group (Spectrum), are required to provide support to their members in their career development. This is a key part of their function. The support Spectrum offers its members includes confidence building opportunities, mentoring, providing role models and sign-posting training opportunities. Lloyds TSB recognises that supporting the career development of lesbian and gay people has advantages across the organisation and therefore continues to develop and promote both specific and generic career development opportunities to lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, in addition to supporting the work of Spectrum.

Organisations should consult their network groups as to whether they feel that they are the best facilitator of certain types of career development initiatives. As the following sections will demonstrate, some network groups have run both formal and informal initiatives from offering careers guidance to running mentoring schemes. It is
important, however, that organisations are not seen to be passing on their own responsibility to offer career development opportunities to lesbian and gay staff.
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Developing specific career development opportunities for lesbian and gay employees

Some organisations have identified that they should offer initiatives deliberately designed for lesbian and gay people. They feel that this is the most effective way to overcome some of the barriers that lesbian and gay people face. Consulting a lesbian and gay network group will help organisations gain some insight into the particular
barriers that exist in their organisation.

Many organisations have career development programmes in place for specific diversity strands, particularly gender, race and disability. Organisations may find it useful, and easier, to establish similar schemes for lesbian and gay employees, adapting them
slightly for their specific needs. It is useful for organisations to assess the need for the initiatives amongst their lesbian and gay staff before implementing them. Some schemes may not be appropriate, and different programmes should be considered instead.

The Home Office's existing positive action programme for women, BME and disabled employees has recently been broadened to include lesbian and gay employees for the first time. The positive action programme provides skills development, training on the Home Office's internal assessment procedures, and a coaching facility for employees from one of the four groups who are seeking promotion within the next 12-18 months. This programme is particularly targeted at those seeking promotion to senior civil service grades.

Citi have hugely successful and award winning mentoring programmes for both female and black and ethnic minority employees. Building on that best practice Citi introduced a mentoring scheme for lesbian and gay employees. With the support of their lesbian and gay network group (Pride) the scheme was widely promoted and received a positive response from potential mentors. Unfortunately, the scheme did not attract the number of mentees Citi anticipated and a survey of network group members later revealed that there was no clearly articulated need for such a programme at this stage. It is not clear why this was the case, but Citi have decided to actively promote generic career development opportunities to its lesbian and gay staff to increase awareness of career development opportunities, before reintroducing the mentoring scheme at a later date.


Some organisations initially encounter a low response to specific initiatives. This can be due, in part, to an anxiety amongst lesbian and gay employees about participating in an internal scheme which they fear may lead them to being outed in the workplace. In response to this anxiety, an increasing number of organisations are sending lesbian and gay employees on targeted schemes hosted by external organisations. The Stonewall Leadership Programme was established in 2005 to provide an external environment in which lesbian and gay people can undergo leadership training.


Stonewall's leadership programme has been identified by many organisations, including BT and Citi, as a valuable training course for lesbian and gay employees seeking leadership training. The intensive two day course runs annually with a range of skill building workshops including how to challenge existing behaviours and how to exercise leadership. One of the advantages of the Stonewall leadership programme is that a significant number of lesbian and gay people from around the country come together to develop their skills. This provides them with the opportunity to meet other people in similar situations in a way that may not be possible in their place of work.

Participants' feedback has been very positive:
"The programme enabled me to realise and analyse a number of fundamental things about myself, my skills and abilities, and enabled me to rethink my career opportunities. Before undertaking this programme I always thought I could: now I know I can."
Dr. Annabelle Willox, Cardiff University

"This was a very useful course with a very high degree of business and personal relevance. I came away with some very useful perspectives and techniques on the definition of leadership and authority and the practical application of these in a work environment."
Scott Stockwell, IBM

An important area where organisations can offer specific training is on how to come out at work. Not coming out at work can be one of the main barriers to the career development of lesbian and gay employees. Some organisations therefore provide advice on how to come out, and ensure that this training and advice is delivered in an
arena where lesbian and gay employees can discuss with each other their concerns and fears around coming out. In this way, organisations can make a valuable contribution to the career development of their gay and lesbian employees.

As with many courses specifically targeted at lesbian and gay employees, particularly in the case of those that deal with advising employees of how to come out, employees who are not out may feel dissuaded from participating for fear that in doing so they may out
themselves. This is especially the case if employees need to apply for training through their line manager or need to seek approval from them to take part.

Organisations should try to ensure that application procedures take this into account. They can, for example, allow employees to apply for such training online without having to seek approval of a line manager. They could also arrange courses to take place during
employees' free time, such as lunch breaks, evenings or weekends, to circumvent them having to seek approval to attend.

In 2004, BT Kaleidoscope launched its assertiveness training course, Confidence Plus, after it consulted members about barriers they encountered to their career  development. Some members said that they lacked confidence and would like advice on how to come out in the workplace. The group identified that no relevant training was already on offer and developed the Confidence Plus course as a result.

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Promoting generic career development opportunities to lesbian and gay employees

Most organisations offer training schemes to all staff which equip participants with the skills to help them to progress to leadership positions. Some lesbian and gay staff may not feel that such training is relevant for them as they might perceive that they are less likely to be promoted owing to their sexual orientation. Some may also feel
uncomfortable about undertaking training that will eventually mean that they should leave their current post. This can be a concern because staff may be anxious about having to come out to a new team and new manager. It is therefore important that organisations target the promotion of such training at lesbian and gay employees
and send out a clear message that sexual orientation will not form a barrier to promotion or career development.

Organisations should consider targeting generic confidence and assertiveness training as well as people management training to lesbian and gay staff. This could help them feel more comfortable being themselves at work.

Staffordshire Police runs the Leadership Development Programme
with Staffordshire University, and participates in the National Police
Improvement Agency-run High Potential Development Programme. Both of these training schemes, which are open to all staff, are actively promoted to suitable lesbian and gay staff identified by the organisation. Lesbian and gay staff are encouraged to participate in the schemes through the network group, through their biannual personal development reviews, and through emails, flyers and posters. This has led to nearly everyone in the lesbian and gay network group either participating in the schemes or being made aware of their suitability to apply.

To help encourage lesbian and gay employees to take up training opportunities, it is vital that organisations ensure that trainers and all participants abide by their equality and diversity policies and trainers understand any specific requirements lesbian and gay participants might need to be met. It is also important to monitor the feedback of
training courses.

The Home Office monitors all feedback from participants in training courses and career development initiatives and asks respondents to identify their sexual orientation. The Home Office is developing an electronic database which will enable them to spot patterns in the sexual orientation of those who both take up training opportunities, and those who are refused opportunities by their line manager. The Home Office anticipates putting in place measures to alleviate any differences experienced by lesbian and gay staff.

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Mentoring schemes

There is no individual format for mentoring schemes. Different organisations develop different schemes dependent on their structure and the needs of their employees. Many organisations already run some form of mentoring scheme for their employees, each with different structures and levels of formality. What is important is that mentoring schemes, whatever their form, are promoted to all suitable employees, including lesbian and gay employees, and that they can respond to any specific requests of lesbian and gay employees.

Many organisations receive specific requests from lesbian and gay employees for a lesbian or gay mentor. In most cases organisations find that, much like other employees, potential mentees who are lesbian and gay request a mentor with a career path similar to their own regardless of their sexual orientation. However, it is important that, should organisations receive a request specifically for a lesbian or gay mentor, they deal with these requests sensitively and try to find a suitable lesbian or gay mentor.

A number of organisations encourage members of the lesbian and gay network group to nominate themselves to create a pool of lesbian and gay mentors. Network groups are also a useful way of promoting a mentoring scheme to encourage uptake amongst
lesbian and gay employees.

Lloyds TSB recognise the value of the mentoring relationship to the career development of both the mentor and the mentee. This is why it has a well established and successful mentoring scheme open to all staff. Lloyds TSB identified that mentoring would prove useful in supporting the career development of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees. They therefore developed a system which enabled them to match lesbian and gay mentees with mentors who have an awareness of lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. This was highlighted to 23,000 managers across the organisation through an intranet article sent to them. This article also encouraged the managers to nominate themselves as mentors. The mentoring scheme is promoted by the Spectrum network group through special events and emails to all its members.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) runs a successful mentoring scheme for all staff. Acknowledging the importance of career development to lesbian and gay staff, the GLA supports the GLA LGBT Employee Network in encouraging lesbian and gay staff to volunteer both as mentors and mentees.

Some organisations' network groups run informal mentoring schemes alongside existing mentoring schemes in place to provide lesbian and gay employees alternative sources of mentors.

The Home Office network group has founded its own informal mentoring scheme for its members after a number of lesbian and gay employees expressed an interest in becoming mentors. The Home Office's own mentoring scheme is open to all and is still used by lesbian and gay employees, but the Home Office fully supports lesbian and gay staff who wish to seek mentors through the network group.

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Encouraging role models

Highly visible openly lesbian and gay staff in senior positions in an organisation provide important role models for lesbian and gay employees at every level in the organisation. Encouraging lesbian and gay people in senior positions to be open in the workplace sends a clear message throughout the organisation that sexual orientation is not a barrier to career development.

Transport for London recognises the importance of lesbian and gay role models and the impact that they can have on staff and their perceptions of the opportunities available to them. Transport for London ensures that lesbian and gay staff in senior positions, including the Board, are visible to more junior lesbian and gay staff. This demonstrates that sexual orientation is not a barrier to progression within the organisation.

Publicising the existence of lesbian and gay employees in leadership positions is a good first step. However, providing the encouragement and support to enable these individuals to become active role models is a further way in which organisations can support the career development of lesbian and gay employees. A valuable way of
providing this encouragement and supporting the career development of role models is to recognise and promote the value of the skills and knowledge that being a role model provides.

Being a role model involves lesbian and gay employees in leadership positions undertaking an active role in supporting and guiding the career development of other lesbian and gay employees. The level of advice, support and guidance an individual can give will depend on many different factors, so it is important that organisations, in
discussion with the individual, identify what role they can play and what support the organisation can give to them. One important task of role models is to provide a valuable opportunity for lesbian and gay employees to network with senior employees.

An openly gay Managing Director at Morgan Stanley is actively encouraged and supported in providing informal advice and support to lesbian and gay employees on a whole range of issues, including career development. Not only does Morgan Stanley cover any expenses he incurs in offering this support, but the senior leadership is very responsive to the demands and importance of this role. Morgan Stanley recognises that having openly gay Managing Directors demonstrates to all staff that sexual orientation is not a barrier to career progression.

It is important, however, that organisations do not assume that lesbian and gay employees in leadership positions should either be capable or want to be promoted as a role model in the organisation. Organisations have an equal responsibility to respond to the needs of their senior lesbian and gay employees as any other employees.

In the absence of role models, or in support of role models already in place, many organisations invite high-profile inspirational speakers to speak on lesbian and gay issues to employees. This demonstrates to staff that lesbian and gay people can succeed in society, and can succeed in their organisation.

Organisations should consider sourcing and funding inspirational speakers to speak to their lesbian and gay staff, particularly about how to overcome obstacles and reach their full potential.
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Providing tailored career guidance and support

Some organisations feel that offering free advice and support services is the best way for them to support the career development of their lesbian and gay employees. A number of organisations offer career advice services where employees can access guidance on how to plan their career and the training opportunities available to them.
This is particularly valuable for new recruits.

To help employees chart their professional and personal growth, Citi gathered together all the best practice guidance for employees of how to take charge of their own career development. All the accumulated guidance, which includes how to network, how to identify individual strengths and weaknesses and how to request feedback, is accessible to all employees through Citi's intranet.

All staff at Transport for London take part in at least one, if not more, personal development discussions a year with their line manager which includes a discussion of all the relevant career development opportunities open to them.

Morgan Stanley supports its Managing Director mentoring programme to provide support and advice to lesbian and gay employees as required. This advice and support covers both personal and professional issues, including coming out and how to develop their career. An openly gay Managing Director is in an ideal position to offer their perspective of how to progress through Morgan Stanley.


Most organisations follow the best practice example of making regular supervisions, reviews or assessments between employees and their line manager obligatory. Many also make discussions about career development an essential part of these meetings.
These meetings, when effective, are a very useful way of informing all employees of the opportunities available to them. Organisations should therefore ensure that all line managers should have access to information about the different opportunities open to their employees, including initiatives specifically targeted at lesbian and gay staff.

When career discussions are effective, employees:

  • Gain a clearer sense of the direction of their career
  • Develop a more realistic view of their skills and potential
  • Develop a broader understanding of the opportunities open to them
  • Feel more confident and motivated
  • Feel more open to the idea of moving within the organisation

It is important, however, that organisations ensure that these meetings, and line managers themselves, are not the only channel through which information on the career development opportunities open to employees can be accessed. In some cases, managers may form negative perceptions of a lesbian and gay employee's potential.

To overcome this, organisations should allow all employees access to information about career development opportunities, and where suitable, enable employees to make an application without first seeking their line manager's approval.

All line managers and staff in the Home Office have access to a Central Learning and Development Database, on which all development opportunities are listed. The Home Office is currently developing the capability where staff can apply for training courses online and the application is automatically sent to their line manager for approval. This will enable lesbian and gay employees to identify training they feel they need and will mean line managers' reasons for denying such requests will be recorded.

Many organisations offer more general advice and support services that can also extend to counselling services. As part of this service, some organisations train their counselling staff on how to offer career guidance or where to refer employees to seek career guidance.

The GLA operates a free and confidential telephone support service, the Employee Assistance Programme, which is open to all staff. This programme offers employees help to resolve personal and professional concerns and problems. The service has trained counsellors and specialists on lesbian and gay issues available to lesbian and gay callers should they request them.

Liverpool John Moores University has a student and staff counselling service which supports the needs of lesbian and gay staff and a Centre for Staff Development which offers career development coaching and mentoring support for lesbian and gay staff if they express concerns about their career development.

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Providing leadership

Demonstrating leadership on issues relevant to lesbian and gay employees can play an
important part in aiding their career development. This includes influencing internal
policies, but also includes the development and promotion of policies that affect those
outside the organisation.

Internally, key senior staff can visibly lend their support, sponsor or champion equality for lesbian and gay employees within the organisation. This clear and demonstrable leadership, which many organisations have already developed, encourages a culture where lesbian and gay employees feel valued. This can also include developing policies that fully consider the impact that they may have on lesbian and gay people.

The Mayor of London has a statutory duty to promote equality in all the work of the GLA group. The Mayor has established high-level policy mechanisms to monitor performance on ensuring equality for lesbian and gay employees across the GLA. There are two designated posts within the GLA reporting directly to the Mayor, dividing responsibility for overseeing lesbian and gay equality issues internally and engagement with London's lesbian and gay community. This year the Mayor also launched the most comprehensive action plan on sexual orientation ever produced in the public sector.

An organisation can also demonstrate clear leadership externally through its involvement with the wider lesbian and gay community. For public bodies, this can include initiatives to tackle issues relevant to the local lesbian and gay community, for example, homophobic hate crime or targeted health services. For other organisations this leadership can be demonstrated through their participation in different events and
initiatives important to the lesbian and gay community, such as supporting schools to prevent homophobic bullying.

The Mayor of London's strong leadership on challenging homophobia and celebrating lesbian and gay culture, both internally and externally, sends a clear message to both employees and potential recruits that the GLA takes their concerns very seriously. The Mayor established the UK's first same-sex partnership register, provides support to numerous lesbian and gay events, including Pride and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and publicly challenged organisations that discriminate, in their policies or practice, against lesbian and gay people. The Mayor also worked with Stonewall to produce an anti-homophobic bullying DVD for all London schools. As a result, all staff and potential recruits are aware that the GLA is a very gay-friendly employer and that sexual orientation will not form a barrier to career progression.

Morgan Stanley's funding of the Mayor of London's Pride Reception in 2007, at which an openly gay Managing Director spoke, was promoted on the front page of Morgan Stanley's intranet. This not only deliberately made the Managing Director in question highly visible to lesbian and gay employees in the organisation, but also promoted his role in offering advice and support to them on their career development. It also demonstrated to staff Morgan Stanley's commitment to supporting the wider lesbian and gay community.

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