We’re over the rainbows: how employers can actually support LGBTQ+ students
There’s an old queer proverb: “If an LGBTQ+ affinity group exists without any outreach to LGBTQ+ employees and applicants, does it exist at all?” According to our research, the answer is no. Not to queer students, anyway. And this should matter to employers, because every single student we spoke to as part of our Early Careers Pulse Check said that an active LGBTQ+ affinity group would make them more likely to apply for a position.
Throughout our interviews with LGBTQ+ students, it became abundantly clear that employers aren’t doing enough to promote their LGBTQ+ affinity groups, nor to promote their support of LGBTQ+ issues. For instance, University of Warwick student Cameron admitted they were only “vaguely aware” of LGBTQ+ affinity groups, and even then they weren’t “really sure of what they do.” As a queer student myself, I had to google exactly what an affinity group even is as research for writing this post!
This is a failing on the part of employers to speak up. As one anonymous student succinctly explains: “It shouldn’t be down to marginalised groups to speak up for themselves (…) it should be people who aren’t in those communities to also speak out for me and other people.” Affinity groups are useless if they exist in isolation; employers must speak out about them.
Another important thing to note is that LGBTQ+ History Month was in February and I can count on one hand the employers that I saw acknowledge this; the majority of our interviewees reported the same. In my case, this is despite the fact that I follow a huge amount of corporate socials; a professional necessity as I’m a working-class queer student who is staring down the barrel of post-graduate unemployment (hint hint: hire me!).
This handful becomes even less if we discount the annoyingly tokenistic rainbow-themed instagram posts that cropped up in February. As highlighted by one student, “corporate LGBT activism is in a very comfortable space at the moment where they just fly the rainbow flag and that is it.” Well, we’re over the rainbows. In fact, 91% of our students believe that good press is the primary motivation for companies supporting LGBTQ+ causes, and shallow acts like those mentioned above only confirm this suspicion.
The students we spoke to were crystal clear about what they need from employers if employers want their talent. They want companies to embrace an organisational purpose that allows LGBTQ+ applicants to have a positive impact. This means that posting the pride flag once per year simply won’t cut it anymore.
They want visible senior LGBTQ+ leadership. The gay intern who tweets out “yass queen” from company socials has become a meme in itself in queer spaces, but it reveals a less humorous truth: there is a rainbow-tinted ceiling in the workplace. If employers want to challenge this perception then, as one student puts it: “It comes with championing LGBTQ+ role models within your organisation as then people will feel more comfortable coming forward and claiming their identity.”
Finally, the most pressing demand we heard from students is for the development of LGBTQ+ specific workplace training and development programmes. This, alongside existing diversity, equality and inclusion policies to be made more robust so as to properly tackle prejudiced workplace cultures. These demands are a matter of safety, and there will be no progress made until there are real consequences for subtle (and overt) bigotry in professional spaces. Or to quote another old queer proverb: “If you wanna be my employer, you’ve gotta get a zero-tolerance policy for bigotry, make it last forever, inclusivity never ends… Zigazig ah.”
We regularly talk to students about their most pressing issues, whether through our Pulse Checks or our The Issues series, which has covered students’ thoughts on work, Gen Z cynicism, money and more. If you’d like to find out more about out The Issues research pieces, Pulse Checks, or chat about all things student, please feel free to contact us.