Another year brings with it another edition of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which professes to detail “Britain’s top gay-friendly employers”. According to Ben Summerskill’s foreward:
Research shows that lesbian, gay and bisexual employees are more productive, creative, loyal and successful when they have the confidence, support and security to truly be themselves at work.
I’m sure that’s true but unfortunately my commie leanings don’t tend to go down too well with my boss. ‘Being yourself’ at work is a rather broad philosophical point, particularly in the age of emotional labour where you’re actively encouraged to “‘be yourself’ at work”(albeit an apolitical, idyllically submissive version of yourself). This fits right in with how Stonewall frame their Index as a service to capital and exclude all considerations other than “efforts to create inclusive workplaces for lesbian, gay and bisexual employees” (sucks to be you, transsexual people!) The section on LGB Community Engagement notes that “LGB people are also consumers and service users, representing a market estimated to be worth £70–81 billion per year in Britain alone.” There’s money in them hills! So the Home Office may, for example, have an utterly dire record on immigration re: gay people and Barclays may be the biggest UK investors in the arms trade which provides weapons to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Russia, but they are nice to their LGB employees! Whoo! Hilariously, we’re told that “Stonewall set additional criteria for global employers, to recognise support for LGB employees worldwide.” We can widen the scope a little but only to folk sitting in your offices.
Apparently you also get points for promoting ”commitment to LGB equality to the wider community” and “working with your suppliers on sexual orientation equality.” This ‘equality’, clearly, is very narrowly defined. The examples above just focus on the wider implications for LGB people of certain organisations – if we extend this to human rights and social justice generally the list becomes even more problematic. Goldman Sachs may be commonly described as “the most evil corporation in the world” and a “great vampire squid” but as a gay person I’m encouraged to view it through one prism only: what’s in it for me? An insidious pragmatism is present, pushing the pervasive myth that morality and politics are not located within the workplace. Stonewall’s Index, then, serves much the same purpose as Corporate Social Responsibility programmes: it elides politics, discourages a wider critical engagement with organisations and presents an essentialist view of sexuality which is both pre- and apart from politics. From this perspective there is no contradiction in Stonewall praising a Home Office which pushes racist and homophobic immigration policies or a Barclays which invests in companies that sell arms to Uganda (and indeed operates there). We’re actively discouraged from even beginning to make those links and so instead we push on with our single-issue e-petitions.
This is what happens when liberation movements become parochial and self-absorbed. As they lose any analysis of where power lies in society and how it operates, battles around areas like sexuality, gender, race, geopolitics and economic justice come to be seen as disparate and unconnected. Once this is the case it’s very easy for the movements to be co-opted by those in power and end up providing a useful service to societies which remain patriarchal, racist and capitalist. Thus we end up with the LGB demand to be ‘allowed’ to be part of the military machine or to be granted ‘equal’ access to socially destructive companies like Goldman Sachs.
This is particularly egregious as the Index is so self-serving and ultimately pointless, even on its own terms. Companies have to apply to enter it. This is free but, we’re told, “The majority of entrants are members of Stonewall’s best practice employers’ programme, Diversity Champions”. Membership of this programme costs £2,500 or £4000 for global organisations. Every single member of Stonewall’s ‘directory of gay-friendly employers’ is a member of this. This tells us absolutely nothing about how the vast majority of people work (I work in an organisation of about 13 people and none of them give a toss about my sexuality). It does, however, provide a steady stream of income for Stonewall. My friend works for a global organisation who has applied to the Index every year for a few consecutive years. Despite being LGB-friendly to the point of having networks, social groups and regular events specifically for LGB staff, it’s never made the list. Instead, Stonewall keep coming up with recommendations for training and seminars – all of which cost money. While this goes on my gay friend merrily goes about his working life…and we continue to shrink ourselves to one-dimensional beings while allowing egregious organisations to benefit from it.