Gay staff hit 'pink plateau' in the voluntary world, says Stonewall

Indira Das-Gupta

Openly gay employees who work in the voluntary sector are coming up against a "pink plateau" that prevents them filling top jobs, Stonewall's chief executive Ben Summerskill has claimed.

Summerskill made his comments in the wake of a Third Sector survey on diversity (Third Sector, 22 March). He said he did not know of a single openly gay or lesbian individual at the head of a charity.

"I know a woman who is a lesbian and chief executive of a charity, but she's in the closet because she's absolutely terrified her trustees might find out," he said. "And I'm certain she's not alone, because trustees tend to be conservative."

Summerskill cancelled his membership of Acevo after it failed to include sexuality in its most recent monitoring survey. "If charities don't even monitor it, then they can't know if they are making progress or not," he said.

He said research showed that if people feel able to be open about their sexuality, they are around 20 per cent more productive at work.

"But we have heard of people becoming a subject of gossip merely for suggesting it is something that should be taken seriously," Summerskill said.

"For example, one heterosexual woman who worked in HR at a charity argued it should be addressed and was subsequently accused of being a lesbian."

Summerskill said the voluntary sector liked to think it was better than other industry sectors on this issue, when in fact it was worse.

"A number of progressive employers in the other sectors, such as a number of investment banks, Ikea and the Navy, have had remarkable success in terms of recruiting more gay employees," he said.

"The knock-on effect is that fewer are now applying for the sorts of jobs they used to go for as a matter of default, such as working for a charity.

"If the sector doesn't address this urgently, it is in danger of missing out on good talent."

But Phil Greasley, a case worker at Galop, which campaigns against homophobic hate crime, and the former director of Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights, disagreed with Summerskill.

He said: "I believe the voluntary sector is actually more forward than the other sectors."

Stonewall and the TUC have launched a guide to the updated version of the 2003 employment regulations relating to sexual orientation in the workplace. Discrimination at Work - it's so over gives employees basic information about the regulations protecting them at work, informs them of their rights and advises what to do if they experience problems.

- See Hot Issue, page 23.

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