April 2008 | By Margarita Alonso, Professor of Diversity Management at IE Business School

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now facing an even greater challenge than gender equality- that of non discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace. Learn how itâ??s done.

Many companies have still not managed to break down the barriers that discriminate against women and disabled workers, and still face challenges in terms of reconciling workers and finding imaginative formulas to attract and retain young talent. And now an even more difficult challenge has appeared: what to do with gays and lesbians.

More than a year ago now, a group of students took the initiative and set up IEOut, the first known LGBT network in a business school in Spain. It was a challenge that was not entirely free from controversy.

This experience, and several studies in progress, have enabled us to learn a great deal. We have achieved our objective in that we are now in a position to give guidelines and advice to firms that want to include this collective in their diversity policies.

Many companies continue to develop their equal opportunities policies from a CSR angle, overlooking the HR perspective. A short while ago, a partner in a large consultancy firm told me that in an interview with an employee who was leaving the company, the person who was leaving said that his main reason was that the atmosphere in the office was very homophobic. In my opinion, solving this unwanted rotation is not only a matter of responsibility, but also of talent management.

There are many prejudices affecting LGBT diversity policies. Many believe that the aim is to convince everyone to come out of the cupboard. Others are afraid of the ghost of positive discrimination and the quotas; and, finally, there are those who, to their horror, think that non-discrimination means they will have to go for a drink with their colleagues in a gay bar.

The Corporate Equality Index is a barometer that assesses the policies for including this collective in the corporate world of the United States. Based on the issues gauged by this index and the best practices of certain European enterprises (the latter are streets ahead of us), the following is a list of successful formulas adapted to the local market through our own experience.

It is recommendable to lay down explicit non-discrimination policies. In Spain, we have no problem with saying that there is no discrimination against gender or geographical origin. However, we still do not readily say that we do not discriminate against sexual orientation. Although most Spanish enterprises do not discriminate in this area, they should say so explicitly. Otherwise the issue becomes taboo and taboos give rise to situations that are, at the very least, rather strange.

The same benefits for all workers. In our country, many of these benefits are now covered by law, but companies should be ready for situations such as the processing of an expatriate whose partner is of the same gender.

Diversity awareness and training campaigns focus not only on women, the disabled, culture or age, but also on LGBT.

Favouring the creation of LGBT groups. Based on our experience, I must insist that it is not a matter of exclusive ghettos or pressure lobbies. It is a question of groups in which members of the collective share experiences and solutions. In women diversity policies, these groups have been extremely useful. Many of them have led to (more or less formal) mentor programmes that have made a big difference for the younger members.

To avoid these prejudices, it is recommendable to invite everyone through tag phrases such as “and friends”, which make it clear that anyone wanting to can attend.

To split hairs, there are firms that carry out specific marketing, sponsorship or advertising actions with two main objectives: selling products or services to this collective or selling themselves as companies in which talent from this social area is welcome.

Many multinationals that stand out on the United States market in the aforementioned diversity barometer still have a long road ahead in Spain. But many others are enjoying success here, such as Google, IBM and Merk.

As far as Spanish enterprises are concerned, there are currently notable exceptions, such as Idealista.com, with Jesús Encinar at the helm: a company that has known how to perfectly combine its position as a reference in property market trends with an original and successful testimony of non-discrimination against homosexuals at work.