Sector is slow to embrace diversity

January 12, 2007

Stonewall lists only one university in its index of the UK's 100 best employers. Rebecca Attwood reports

Police forces and investment banks have more gay-friendly employers than do universities, according to a new equality index.

Higher education is among the worst-performing sectors in Stonewall's latest Workplace Equality Index. Just one university made it into a list of Britain's top 100 employers for gay staff.

Of the 16 further and higher education institutions that submitted entries to Stonewall, 63 per cent offered no form of support specific to lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) staff, compared with 39 per cent of organisations overall.

Some 31 per cent of institutions have a senior lead person for LGB issues at board level. The figure is 67 per cent among all sectors. A quarter of institutions routinely consult LGB employee network groups compared with 55 per cent of entrants overall.

Stephen Frost, director of workplace programmes at Stonewall, said the results showed that there was no such thing as a stereotypical gay-friendly employer. "Sectors that have had problems in the past are putting a lot of effort into doing things better. But sectors such as media, education and health have never been perceived to have problems, so nothing has been done about it. We've heard from senior academics who are not 'out' at work because they believe it would damage their career."

Each higher education institution that took part in the survey has a written policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, and each has a diversity team covering LGB issues.

The success story is Sunderland University, ranked 92nd, which claims to be one of the first institutions to introduce a specific policy on sexual orientation. It is the first university to be included in the index, now in its third year.

Steve Wharton, joint president of the University and College Union, said LGB matters in the workplace had only recently come on to the radar within society as a whole. Despite this, he said institutions were making progress.

"The issue goes much deeper than any index. We need to ensure that non-judgmentalism is embedded alongside openness and appreciation of diversity."

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association said:

"That 100 per cent of these institutions has a policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and a team covering LGB issues is an indication of the work taking place."

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