Focus: People Management - Charities risk losing 'gay-friendly' tag

Graham Willgoss,

A Stonewall recruitment guide reveals private and public sector progress.

The reputation of the third sector for gay-friendly employment practices is at risk of being overshadowed by progress in the public and private sectors, according to the chief executive of Stonewall.

"Historically, the third sector used to be regarded as gay-friendly by many staff," says Ben Summerskill. "However, the public and private sectors are taking such huge strides forward that charities now risk being overshadowed, particularly as they often expect people to work for less than they'd earn elsewhere."

Summerskill's comments coincide with Stonewall's release of the first national recruitment guide for gay and lesbian graduates and job-hunters.

Starting Out is targeted at the estimated 150,000 lesbian and gay students in Britain. About 10,000 copies will be distributed at student unions, employment agencies and gay, lesbian and bisexual societies across the country.

The guide features advice on how to go about looking for the right employer, interview techniques and tips from gay staff employed at inclusive organisations on how to handle their sexuality in the workplace.

"We deal with students who want to work somewhere where their sexual orientation will be no barrier to career development," says Stephen Frost, manager of Stonewall's workplace programme. "Organisations featured in Starting Out are able to reach as yet untapped markets of gay recruits."

The guide includes profiles on 79 major organisations that appear on Stonewall's list of employers committed to an improved working environment for gay staff. Criteria include whether they offer partnership benefits to same-sex couples, have gay board members or advertise job vacancies in the gay media.

Each year, Stonewall publishes its Corporate Equality Index, a guide to the top 100 gay-friendly employers. But only two charities appeared in this year's top 30 - Barnardo's at 20 and Nacro at 24.

"Our organisation supports its gay workforce wholeheartedly," says Dawn Smith, chair of Nacro's gay staff support group. "Working here is a gratifying experience, enabling us to all be ourselves in work without fear."

Summerskill adds: "The tiny number of charities in our 2005 index hasn't encouraged graduate recruits to see the voluntary sector as a sector of choice. The employers featured in the guide understand that people want a working environment free from discrimination and a job where someone will be truly valued as an individual."

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