Workplace Guides: Career Development

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Communicating With Employees

This section covers:

Communicating career development opportunities to lesbian and gay employees

It is important that organisations take a proactive and targeted approach to communicating both generic and tailored career development opportunities to their lesbian and gay staff. All staff should be advised of the training opportunities available to them and told where they can get more specific support, guidance or advice.

Communicating training opportunities during induction and informing all new recruits that the organisation will try to address any specific requirements, including those to do with their sexual orientation, is an easy first step in opening up career development
opportunities to lesbian and gay employees. This can send a clear, initial message to lesbian and gay employees that an organisation understands some of their particular concerns, and has put in place measures to address them.

The lesbian and gay network group at Staffordshire Police promotes the force to potential recruits at community events. Prospective lesbian and gay employees are given information about the High Potential Development Scheme and are invited to apply at the same time as they apply to join the force. The network group can help potential recruits complete the form. This sends a clear signal to potential recruits that career development is integral to lesbian and gay employees recruitment.

London Underground has an apprenticeship programme. During the first three weeks, all new recruits are given extensive diversity training. This training not only covers the rights of others at work, but also informs different groups, including lesbian and gay recruits, about the rights and opportunities accessible during their careers at the London Underground.

Many organisations promote career development opportunities through their lesbian and gay network group, with many network groups helping facilitate training and careers guidance.

It is important, however, that career development programmes are promoted well beyond the membership of network groups to reach the widest range of employees. It is also important that organisations consider whether all staff have access to the same
forms of communication, such as emails, and to what extent lesbian and gay employees who are not out at work are able to receive information about and partake in these programmes.

Many of the staff who work for London Underground do not have access to the internet or email system at work. London Underground have therefore developed other mechanisms for communicating with staff. For example, training opportunities are promoted via posters across 500 sites. This is to ensure that all staff, across different operations, have access to information on the training opportunities available.

Whilst Staffordshire Police has had a very high take up rate of its career development initiatives by the members of its lesbian and gay network group and other lesbian and gay support networks, they identified through monitoring that the majority of its lesbian and gay employees were not members of the network group. They therefore use a wide variety of targeted means to communicate career development opportunities to all their lesbian and gay employees including posters, information emails, flyers and notes attached to their pay slips.

BT, all employees receive an annual Personal Development Review. This provides an opportunity to establish what training is available to employees. BT Kaleidoscope communicates with its members around this time to ensure that employees consider Confidence Plus and other offerings in the development review. The training is also promoted through the company's electronic staff communications website. It's also promoted on, accessible by all employees whether they are members of the group or not. Information about the Confidence Plus programme is also distributed in the form of a mail shot to all Kaleidoscope members.

Some organisations can target information about career development opportunities to their lesbian and gay staff. They can attach, with strict limits on confidentiality, equality and diversity information to an employee's personnel file.

As part of the development of its electronic human resources database, the Home Office is developing the capability for senior human resources managers to identify individual lesbian and gay employees who might benefit from career development initiatives.

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Managing expectations

Some participants who feel empowered by the career development opportunities offered to them may feel disappointed and become demotivated if their career does not  progress in the way they hoped. Lesbian and gay employees are no different in this respect. It is important that all organisations manage the expectations of lesbian and gay staff who take part in career development initiatives.

As many organisations will already know from career development programmes for other
groups, a central part of any career development initiative is training staff to identify their potential career paths based on their skills and potential. Offering advice and support about the realistic career opportunities open to them is a good way of managing expectations from the beginning of their career development. It is also important to continue to manage the expectations of lesbian and gay staff after they have completed training.

An integral part of Citi's ethos of employees taking charge of their own career development is helping them to identify their own potential. All employees have access to comprehensive and interactive guidance on the intranet on how to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. Learning and development opportunities are widely available through either traditional classroom training or e-learning modules.

Part of the Home Office's positive action programme involves supplying participants with a coach who helps them create a development plan which sets out what they need to do to follow their chosen career path and the timescale in which they can reasonably expect to do it.

Many organisations already manage the expectations of internal applicants for positions in an informal manner. However, organisations should also explicitly caution as part of the initiatives that the career progression of participants will be reliant on merit. A vital part of managing the expectations of lesbian and gay employees is to offer  feedback in response to any internal applications they may make.

Staffordshire Police have been very successful in their promotion of career development opportunities to lesbian and gay staff. As a result of this success, Staffordshire Police had a backlog of individuals with leadership training, but no leadership positions available. Staffordshire Police recognised that it was crucial to ensure that such staff did not feel demotivated. The force therefore reiterated to those employees that they were highly valued members of the team, and reassured them that more opportunities would become available in the future. Lesbian and gay staff also felt that the skills and experience gained from the training were a valuable form of career development in itself.

Citi manages the expectations of the participants of the 'Coaching for Success' programme from the outset. It is made clear to participants that the purpose of the programme is to help them develop their skills and put their career plans into  perspective, and that participation in the programme is no guarantee of promotion.

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The legal framework for lesbian and gay specific career development initiatives

There may be concerns about the legality under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 of running specific programmes for lesbian and gay staff. It is not unlawful to target, or promote, existing schemes and courses which are already open to all, to lesbian and gay employees. Nor is it unlawful to run specific schemes or initiatives for lesbian and gay people for the purpose of helping them develop their skills and potential. The Regulations contain an exemption for acts specifically designed
to redress any disadvantages lesbian and gay employees face in work because of their sexual orientation. The regulations state:

“Nothing in Part II or III shall render unlawful any act done in or in connection with -
(a) affording persons of a particular sexual orientation access to facilities for training which would help fit them for particular work; or
(b) encouraging persons of a particular sexual orientation to take advantage of opportunities for doing particular work, where it reasonably appears to the person doing the act that it prevents or compensates for disadvantages linked to sexual orientation suffered by persons of that sexual orientation doing that work or likely to take up that work."

Employers need only to demonstrate that it 'reasonably appears' that any scheme or initiative they target at lesbian and gay employees compensates for disadvantages they face. It is unclear in the regulations how this would be demonstrated, however organisations would be well advised to consult their lesbian and gay employees as
to what disadvantages they feel they face in their career development, and how they feel the organisation should tackle them.

Some employees may feel that this exception for positive action is unfair. It is therefore good practice to explain to all staff the necessity for such career development initiatives and to provide similar initiatives for heterosexual staff. It is also vital to send out a clear message to all staff that all appointments are made on merit.
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Making the case to staff

Organisations should take a proactive approach in communicating any lesbian and gay specific initiatives to staff. Some organisations may face resistance from heterosexual staff to initiatives targeted at lesbian and gay employees. For the success of the lesbian and gay specific career development initiatives and to ensure that all staff feel motivated, organisations should take steps to manage any resistance they encounter. Organisations may also find that lesbian and gay people are reticent about specific opportunities targeted at them. This is because they may not necessarily identify the barriers that exist to their career development. Making the case to lesbian and gay staff can be crucial for schemes to be successful.

Some organisations open up their lesbian and gay targeted initiatives to all staff. This enables any member of staff to attend, without necessarily indicating to their manager that they are lesbian or gay. It also minimises the likelihood that a specific scheme will be criticised for providing “special" opportunities to certain groups. Organisations ensure that whilst the content and purpose of their initiatives may be to tackle issues specific to lesbian and gay staff, such as how to come out at work, all staff can participate in them. These organisations find that their specific initiatives for lesbian and gay staff are also useful for heterosexual staff in both helping them to
understand the needs of lesbian and gay staff and for developing their own skills, particularly their confidence and assertiveness.

BT Kaleidoscope had some queries from people who wondered whether its Confidence Plus programme, targeted at lesbian and gay staff, actually discriminated against heterosexual staff, in offering advantages to lesbian and gay staff. The BT network countered this firstly by informing them that the course was open to all its members regardless of their sexual orientation and secondly explaining about the unique experiences some lesbian and gay employees have, particularly with difficulties in coming out at work.

Citi rarely encounters resistance to its female only 'Coaching for Success' programme. When it occasionally does, its response is threefold: 1) the programme is a legitimate tool towards improving the number of female leaders in the organisation; 2) that it is the only single-gender development programme and there are extensive learning and development opportunities available for all staff; 3) Citi's Equal Opportunities and Recruitment policy states that all positions in the organisation will be awarded on merit, and that participation in the programme is no guarantee whatsoever of promotion.

The Home Office manages any resistance to its positive action programmes by reminding all employees that it is not only the policy of the Home Office to be proportionally reflective across all levels of the organisation, but it is an expectation of the community they serve. The Home Office also funds and supports all the network groups to communicate the necessity for such schemes by the communities they represent. These messages are communicated through numerous media including the intranet, statements from the Board, the employee newsletter and through conferences and events.

In order to manage scepticism about targeted career development opportunities, organisations should consider reiterating to all staff that:

  • All appointments are made on merit
  • Lesbian and gay employees are under-represented in leadership positions and this needs to be addressed
  • Many lesbian and gay employees have different requirements that need to be addressed
  • All staff have access to similar training schemes, where relevant, or that specific schemes for lesbian and gay employees are open to all
  • All staff must abide by the organisation's equality and diversity policy
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