Promoting LGBT rights will help your company perform better, says Microsoft UK director

Companies that encourage inclusion and diversity in the workplace are more innovative and perform better, a top Microsoft UK director has said.

Hugh Milward, Director of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs, told a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) event at the technology firm’s London office that creating an environment in which staff were able to be themselves was “fundamental to the way in which organisations should be functioning”.

“Having a rich and diverse working environment makes sense from a business perspective,” he said. “Creating a place where people can genuinely be who they are drives a business forward and creates a virtuous circle in terms of recruitment and retention. It allows people to be relaxed and do their best work. That’s true for any organisation that wants to succeed and get the best out of their people.”

Milward was speaking at an event jointly hosted by GLEAM, Microsoft’s LGBT organisation, and PRISM, a group that represents LGBT+ staff at HMRC. He said he was proud of the work Microsoft had done on diversity and inclusion but added that “we can and will go further”.

Hugh Milward (left), Elliot Vaughn (second left) and Paula Lender-Swain (right) were joined by HMRC LGBT advocates at the event

Hugh Milward (left), Elliot Vaughn (second left) and Paula Lender-Swain (right) were joined by HMRC LGBT advocates at the event

“It’s not just about the big gestures, it’s about small changes that organisations can make that result in a huge difference to how people feel. It doesn’t take committees or millions of pounds, it’s about thinking about how we interact with and support each other.”

GLEAM has more than 2,000 members worldwide and works to provide support and networking opportunities for members, as well as promote activities within the company that raise awareness about the LGBT community.

It builds on a long history of support for LGBT rights at the company. In 1993, Microsoft was one of the first firms in the world to offer employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners. More recently, it supported marriage equality in the US and Ireland, and has made a public commitment to do so in every market in which it operates across the world.

Elliot Vaughn, a partner at Boston Consulting Group who also spoke at the London event, said the LGBT community was still victimised in many countries.

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“There are 126 countries where you can be fired for being gay, and 173 countries where you can be fired for being trans. Last year was the worst on record for mass LGBT arrests, and we’ve seen them in Nigeria. China shut down the world’s biggest lesbian dating app, in Indonesia 58 men were arrested for being in a sauna, while in Uganda PRIDE was cancelled.

“It’s been a tough time for our LGBT brothers and sisters across the world.”

However, Vaughn, who sits on the board of LGBT human rights organisation OutRight Action International, said there are reasons to be optimistic. He pointed to positive action by many governments and leaders, including Theresa May. The UK Prime Minister drew cheers and applause at a Commonwealth heads of government meeting last month when she urged nations to overhaul “outdated” anti-gay laws. “Nobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love,” she said.

At the Microsoft event, Vaughn called out countries that have made progress on LGBT right over the past year.

“We’ve seen some incredible steps forward in Germany, Taiwan, Australia – where it’s now possible to legally marry as a gay person – Colombia and Mozambique,” he said. “In Malta there have been great moves to recognise same-sex relationships and the right for gay people to have children. It has also become the first country in the world where you can have no gender on your passport.

“Fiji has written protections for sexual orientation and gender identity into its constitution; in India there have been steps forward to recognise trans people; Belize has decriminalised LGBT relationships.”

Paula Lender-Swain, Chair of GLEAM at Microsoft, said the company is working hard on its diversity and inclusion policy but the LGBT community is best placed to help others be more accepting.

“We understand inclusion, so we can teach others. Inclusion is tricky but we as a community can help with that,” she said. “It’s also essential to have LGBT allies. If you have a thriving LGBT network in the workplace, that’s just small percentage of your entire staff. The allies need to be active, too.

“This year, our aim is to help our partner network have their own versions of GLEAM. There is a massive appetite from them to talk about diversity. Thinking about launching chapters in different regions.”