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Source: University of Toronto

Rotman School explores building diverse workplaces

November 8, 2006

Gay, lesbian communities focus of Nov. 6 seminar Nov 8/06 by Stephen Watt

Promoting sexual diversity is good for both employees and a company’s bottom line, argued the speakers at Building Diverse Workplaces: Models for Successful Inclusion of LGBT Employees, a seminar hosted at the Rotman School of Management Nov. 6. Four panellists of various backgrounds – legal, academic and corporate – gathered before a full audience in Rotman’s Fleck Atrium to discuss the challenges of achieving workplace inclusivity for those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

A business case can be made for creating a welcoming work environment for sexual minorities, said Susan Black, a consultant and former head of Catalyst Consultants. "Companies realize they can be more effective in generating revenue if their employee base reflects their customer base. They also enjoy better business outcomes – with more innovation and creativity, and less group think – when the workplace is diverse."

In the war for talent, companies seeking to attract and retain top employees must vie to prove their socially conscious credentials. "Your approach to LGBT issues is a benchmark, an indicator that you are a progressive employer," said Brad Salavich, LGBT program manager for global workforce diversity at IBM. Susan Ursel, an employment equity lawyer, agreed, calling "queer" workers the "canaries in the coal mine," whose experiences on the job, positive or negative, are indicative of a company’s attitude towards employees of all stripes.

Although most companies pay lip service to the values of equity and diversity, making people of different sexual identities feel valued requires effort at all levels of an organization. "Anti-harassment policies are just a beginning," Ursel said. "To achieve genuine change, you have to shift the entire corporate culture."

In Canada, employee groups and labour unions have been active in promoting a social agenda. "Employers have had to address harassment based on gender or sexuality, or face the legal consequences," stated Professor David Rayside, head of U of T’s sexual diversity studies program. While grassroots activism is important, cultural change must also be promoted at senior levels if it is to succeed.

Added Black, "Managers will get on board if they see a business benefit. You need to sell [sexual diversity] as not just an equity or a legal issue but as a business issue. If you can bring all your identities to work, you’re going to be more engaged and more productive and the company will reap the rewards."

A 90-minute video of the forum is available at



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