Brendan Byrne, leader of Accenture Ireland’s LGBTQ employee resource group, discusses acceptance and allyship in the corporate world.
Diversity and inclusion have become two of the most popular buzzwords around company culture and benefits in recent years. They are incredibly important, in equal measure, if a workforce is to thrive.
How can you be sure, though, that a company is putting the right actions behind those two words? How can leaders continue to check themselves, instead of simply climbing aboard the business bandwagon?
As Accenture’s Brendan Byrne told me, you shouldn’t “think that you have an inclusive organisation because you sponsor an LGBT+ event”.
Alongside his role as a global finance lead, Byrne heads up Accenture Ireland’s LGBTQ employee resource group, Pride at Accenture, and its LGBTQ Ally Programme.
I spoke to him about his experiences advocating for employees in the LGBTQ community and what companies must do to up their game around acceptance and allyship.
‘Find a company where you can truly be yourself’
– BRENDAN BYRNE
What does your work leading the Accenture LGBTQ network involve?
There are two aspects to the role, which are focused around ‘culture’ and ‘people’. ‘Culture’ is where we ensure that our policies and behaviours are fully inclusive and allow everyone – our people, clients and suppliers – to feel comfortable when they come into our offices and be their true selves.
‘People’ is the fun side of things, ensuring that as a network we are able to meet up in a comfortable environment to do informal things like cinema trips, supporting LGBT+ charities at fundraising events or just simply meeting up outside of work for chats and catch-ups as a community. It’s the people side which truly makes us a network and friends.
Why are initiatives such as LGBTQ networks important for companies?
LGBT+ networks are incredibly important as they allow a culture of equality and support employees to thrive. Our latest ‘Getting to Equal’ LGBT+ research has shown that in Ireland, 62pc of employees feel that their gender identity or expression or their sexual orientation has slowed their progress at work.
On top of that, only 27pc of employees are fully out in work. This greatly concerns me and reinforces why we need such networks. If employees feel that their progression in work will be slowed by being out, or that they don’t feel they can be open in work, that can create an unhealthy environment leading to lower levels of productivity, higher absenteeism, higher turnover and, worst of all, mental health difficulties.
Networks allow everyone to be themselves in a safe environment with a smaller group of people, no matter where they are on their own journey.
In your opinion, is tech a positive field in terms of LGBTQ acceptance?
Yes, I think there are many tech companies that are very positive with regard to LGBT+ acceptance and some are very visibly leading the way. That is to be applauded.
However, it has to be more than just on the surface. It needs to be ingrained in the organisational culture, in everything the company does, to truly have impact.
What advice would you give to other companies unsure of how to show support for LGBTQ employees?
There is no one-size-fits-all. Understand that every company is on its own journey, has room to challenge itself, listen to employees and improve. Engage your ‘culture makers’ to drive the change within your organisation.
Accenture has identified these as the younger, more gender-balanced group of people who are ahead of the curve when it comes to promoting LGBT+ inclusion. Give them the freedom and support to create the right networks, platforms and access to leadership to change the culture from within.
Review your HR policies and other practices to ensure that they are inclusive. Provide sincere, unequivocal and visible support from top leadership.
Are there any common mistakes you’d tell companies to do their best to avoid?
Watch for the gap between what you think is working and what your employees actually feel. Our research showed that 68pc of leaders feel they create empowering environments in which employees can be themselves and raise concerns without fear. However, only one-third of employees agree.
To my earlier point, support has to be more than on the surface. Don’t think that you have an inclusive organisation because you sponsor an LGBT+ event, for example; know you have one by leading the way and supporting those culture makers who can genuinely help make a difference.
What advice would you give to members of the LGBTQ community starting out in their career?
We all spend a significant amount of time in work and with our colleagues. Find a company where you can truly be yourself. Focus on being the best version of you by being happy in both your work and your workplace, rather than focusing on who knows and doesn’t know. That way, you are, hopefully, on the path to a successful and happy career.