Robert Half meets…Protiviti Director Belton Flournoy

By Robert Half on 24th June 2022

Pride Month is an open invitation to get involved with LGBTQ+ communities professionally and socially. To demonstrate the change that Pride events, groups, and initiatives can affect, we sat down to chat with Director in Protiviti's Technology consulting practice, Belton Flournoy.

Belton is a founding member of the Protiviti UK LGBTQ+ Network, founded Pride in the City for Pride in London, and supports The Inclusivity Initiative for the LSE, among countless other diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) organisations.

We asked him about intersectionality, how to launch effective LGBTQ+ groups, and what a truly impactful DEI event might look like. Here’s what happened.

What are the most common DEI challenges businesses face?

Lots of businesses speak about the challenges of hiring an ethnically diverse workforce. For example, a law firm in the US added a diversity target to its interviewing policy. This didn't work, nor did university recruitment, so they brought diverse people to speak to middle school children. They finally realised lots of children had chosen not to go into law because they didn't see people like them in the legal shows on TV.

I found that interesting because it shows that if you really want to change diversity, whether it's LGBTQ+ or ethnic minorities or gender, you can't just focus on tactical solutions. You have to be committed to using data to understand what you want to change, and then continually adapt. Most organisations implement the first step and feel proud, they don’t go back to assess its effectiveness.

Another element that comes out is assimilation versus diversity. Lots of times, when organisations speak about wanting to create a diverse workforce, they really want to hire people who look different but act just like them.

We have to recognise that we don't want to always assimilate; we want to find people who can do the job. And they might rub you the wrong way if you're a leader because you’re used to working with people who are similar to you. But that change is what drives businesses to be more successful.

What considerations should people make before setting up an LGBTQ+ group or initiative?

If you’re an Employee Network Group (ENG) within a business, you need to understand the goals you want to achieve. If you're just randomly choosing things to do, you won’t be able to drive the outcomes you really want. So, focus on what you want and do it in year one, year two, and year three, versus just doing a bunch of stuff.

When it comes to the people giving back as individuals, the first step is to volunteer for an organisation. Don't wait for the right organisation. Find any organisation because getting into the habit is the hardest part of volunteering. And once you do, it becomes part of who you are and the right one will present itself.

Your work with Pride in the City involved organising LGBTQ+ events for businesses across London. In your opinion, what makes a truly impactful event?

Emotional stories and connections, especially vulnerable ones from senior leaders. Also, try inviting charity partners to do a 10-minute opening on why they work at their charity before the event and then have a fundraiser around that. Because it brings an emotional connection to whatever topic you're talking about, and people respond well to an impactful story.

I think it’s also important to focus on getting new people to events through crossover collaborations. If you advertise to each group, you'll have people who wouldn't normally come to LGBTQ+ groups attending and offering their support. We don't want to preach to the choir; you want to reach new people. And, don’t forget to follow up afterwards!

You’ve been very vocal about your passion for intersectionality. Can you explain your understanding of the term and how people can be more conscious of it in their everyday lives?

Intersectionality was originally coined by a black female academic who was trying to describe the unique experience of being both black and female. Then it extended to wider feminist issues before moving more towards reflecting the wider set of categories it does today. Intersectionality is about respecting that people aren't a single element.

We need to make sure we focus on that across all categories of people. You’ll see LGBTQ+ events saying, “we're focusing on bi or trans or asexual”, but you don't see those events focusing on race relations within the LGBTQ+ community. It’s about understanding the minority groups within the minority groups and giving them a platform.

What are the next steps for community-based inclusion initiatives like Pride, and what challenges prevent that progress?

When we talk about challenges, I like to separate it out into large corporate communities and small to medium business communities.

Among a large corporate community, it's about getting people to be comfortable early in their careers. Only 32 per cent of LGBTQ+ people are out at work in the first few years of their career compared to 80 per cent in senior executive leadership, according to a McKinsey report. Organisations need to do more to help educate managers — you’ll get higher output from people if they feel that they can be themselves.

Now, the other element is focusing on small and medium sized organisations. Some smaller companies are missing out on talent for reasons they don't understand, because they don't have the money to invest in having a conversation with a DEI professional. I think people finding ways to support small and medium sized organisations is a great way of helping to share in the evolution of what Pride has been able to achieve in the past 50 years.

What are some accessible ways people can support LGBTQ+ communities in their local area?

Google ‘LGBTQ+’ and the name of your Borough Council. I lived in my local council for two years before I found out that there was a local LGBTQ+ community that you could donate to. You start to realise that there are lots of communities around; we just don't know they exist.

The second thing is to give your time or skills to a charity. Lots of people think charities need donations when, in reality, they also need skills. Sometimes your knowledge or your time can be more valuable than your money.

Which Pride events do you most look forward to each year?

The ones I enjoy the most are the ones that impact my learning journey. One that stood out was an event about trans inclusion and they shared something called the ‘Genderbread Person’ (yes, google it!). They spoke about how people can have a sliding scale of how they present themselves and who they're sexually attracted to, from male to female and everything in between. It opened my eyes a lot.

Another event was a panel I did last year for Pride, and we focused on pronouns; it was called Hey, You Guys. It was fantastic because it didn't just focus on why we should use gendered pronouns; it also focused on the use of pronouns in greetings and language, such as opening meetings by saying “hey, guys” and how that might make women feel.

When it comes to London-based events, I love the Attitude Awards and the British LGBT Awards. Especially when I get an invite!

We like to get to know the people we work with, and the ‘Robert Half Meets’ series means that you can get to know them too — keep an eye out for more on our advice page. You can find out more about Belton here or contact our team here for advice on DEI hiring practices.

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