From Boardrooms to National Legislatures: Why LGBT participation is still lagging?
By Fabrice Houdart
In Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America” which narrates the beginning of the AIDS crisis, Roy Cohn — the most feared lawyer in New York City – explains to his doctor the gay community’s lack of clout: “Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who, in 15 years of trying, can’t get an […] anti-discrimination bill through City Council. They are men who know nobody, and who nobody knows. Now […] does that sound like me?”. Whether it is in legislatures, boardrooms or corporate management, research has repeatedly shown that diversity enhances performance and challenges the dangerous “group think”. But for LGBTI people, representation is not only about greater efficiency but more importantly about ensuring that their voices are heard, participating in decision-making and tackling inequalities that still affect them.
In the 2017 UK elections, a record number of openly LGBTI MPs were elected to Parliament totalling about 7% of the new legislature. However, in the same year, the newly elected French parliament only included about 1% of openly LGBTI “Députés” a figure slightly lower than that of the 115th U.S. Congress (1.6%) and Senate (2%). The conclusion is that either British politician are significantly queerer than their French or American counterparts or that LGBTI people are under-represented in France and the US. Another worrisome element of explanation is that a sizeable number of representatives still feel safer in the closet in these two countries fearing to be vilified, undermined or ridicule for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Finally, what is made clear is that favourable LGBTI legislation and greater representation are not significantly correlated.
This issue is not specific to national legislatures: it is observed in political leadership, boardrooms or managerial teams. The lesbian Prime Minister appointed in Serbia on June 17th joined the very exclusive club (which constitutes of the Prime Ministers of Ireland, Luxembourg and Iceland) of the 2% of openly LGBTI World leaders. When I was working at the World Bank, among the 25 chairs of the Board only one was ever occupied by an openly LGBTI executive director who since then has left. Similarly, Out Leadership, a global LGBT business organization that partners with the world’s most influential companies, recently pointed out that openly LGBT directors are virtually non-existent in US Boardrooms. There are fewer than 10 of them on the boards of Fortune 500 companies, or less than 0.3 percent of directors. This lack of fair representation is even more endemic at the managerial and senior levels in corporations and public service where LGBTI people are still under-represented and often contained to selected areas such as support functions or non-client facing positions. The so-called “lavender ceiling” is made worse by companies’ resistance to seek self-identification from LGBTI staff members and develop the related metrics.
While the lack of voice and participation of LGBTI people cannot be dissociated from the persistence of patriarchal attitudes in corporations and public institutions, which continues to unfairly exclude women, unlike gender disparities no substantial efforts are currently made to remediate it. This needs to change and constitutes the next frontier for LGBTI inclusion in the more “tolerant” countries. Potential remedies include for LGBTI civil society to keep track of representation in decision-making bodies, for organizations to take proactive actions to ensure better representation in these bodies and showcase their LGBTI representatives, board members or senior staff and to foster a pipeline of capable LGBTI people.
When LGBTI are provided with the power to effect meaningful socio-political change, society as a whole wins but it also contributes to greater acceptance of LGBTI people: a true virtuous cycle.
(Fabrice Houdart is Human Rights Officer at United Nations. This article was originally published on LinkedIn)