Posted on Friday 24 August 2018 by John Mulgrew
BREAKFASTEER: FERGAL McFERRAN, CLIENT ACCOUNT MANAGER, STONEWALL
BREAKFASTING VENUE: BULLITT HOTEL
Inclusivity across a vast range of Northern Ireland’s workforces is now at the top of Fergal McFerran’s daily agenda.
He’s now the man on the ground here for LGBT charity Stonewall, and is trying to make, help and shape Northern Ireland workforces to become more welcoming and inclusive environments for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Stonewall has been up-and-running for almost 30 years, but in the last few months it’s teamed up with the Rainbow Project in Belfast to help companies here with its ‘diversity champions’ programme.
“That works with employers over workplace inclusion, to create truly inclusive environments. Throughout the rest of the UK, we work with more than 750 organisations,” he said.
“That was formalised last autumn when Stonewall announced a formal partnership with the Rainbow Project.”
Catching up for a breakfast chat, Bullitt hotel in Belfast city centre is the establishment of choice.
And on this occasion, and it’s been a rare one in recent months, we are actually having breakfast… rather than just the bare caffeinated drip required to get any productive day off the ground.
Of course, as I start quizzing Fergal on his new role, the food arrives. He can blame me for this one.
Fergal says firms have approached the organisation to find out what they can do to improve their own workplaces, while others are already ensuring that they ensure their companies are ahead of the curve.
“There would be people who we identify as inclusive employers, while there are others who very much know it’s something they need to work on.”
It’s something firms need to be aware of, and complacency isn’t enough.
“One of things we hear is that people say ‘we don’t have any issue with that’,” Fergal says.
“And when you delve into that, the chances are they haven’t asked their staff.”
The organisation’s latest research points to a somewhat worrying percentage of people who have concerns that their sexuality will impact their employment opportunities.
“When you look at some of the statistics regarding Northern Ireland, one in four people won’t be out in the workplace,” he says.
“About a third of people believe that their sexual orientation will have a negative impact on their chances of progression.
“If employers try to really examine what their staff think... I think they will really get a clear picture of what the situation actually is.”
Some of the inaugural members of Stonewall’s programme in Northern Ireland include law firms Allen and Overy, Baker McKenzie and Pinsent Masons, along with Allstate, Citi, EY, Close Brothers and the PSNI.
Across the board, Northern Ireland is playing catch-up to elsewhere in the UK.
“Some of the things we have here, compared to the rest of the UK, are very different. There is a journey to go here that isn’t really under way yet.
“There are pockets of really good practice, and some organisations which do it really well and understand, but there are others, and our programme is an opportunity to really do it.
“There has been a shift in the last while, and public sector organisations are getting really involved in this. When we publish our UK Top 100 list, the split is almost 50/50 between public and private.”
He says businesses need an investment in “time and effort” instead of spending large sums of money.