Recognition of the progress many councils are making in their approach to inclusivity has taken a step forward in the Top 100 LGBT Employers index published by the campaigning group Stonewall.
Coming in at ninth position for its policies on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans issues is Newcastle City Council, one of nine local authorities on the list which includes public-sector bodies ranging from the National Assembly for Wales - in number one spot - to the Royal Navy and Marines, several universities and a number of health and social care organisations.
Leeds City Council entered the Top 100 in 50th position while Nottinghamshire County Council jumped from 51st last year to 22nd.
The list also includes many private sector organisations ranging from financial services and legal firms to consumer goods, retail and manufacturing companies.
Binding the organisations together, say Stonewall, founded in 1989 by campaigners against the infamous Section 28 of the Local Government Act, is a commitment to ensuring that every individual is respected regardless of their gender orientation.
More recently it has added the treatment of 'trans' to the factors it considers in compiling the Top 100 - an umbrella term meaning people whose gender is different to the one they were assigned at birth.
Newcastle City Council's LGBT strategy is firmly entrenched and goes back many years. Louise Crosby, policy and communications advisor and co-chair of the council's LGBT network, points to the importance of senior leadership.
'We've always been proactive on LGBT because it's at the heart of the council's values and beliefs,' she says. 'Tackling inequality is a priority for elected members and that makes all the difference.'
The council leader Nick Forbes is an out gay man who takes great pride in his authority's accolade. 'We are honoured to be ranked as one of the top 10 most LGBT-friendly organisations in the country,' he said when the news broke. ‘We have clearly demonstrated that equality is at the heart of our values and I am so proud of our staff who have worked tirelessly to make a real difference to people’s lives.'
Strategies adopted by Newcastle include encouraging an active LGBT network which is consulted quarterly by the HR director and appointing a 'diversity at work liaison officer' who provides a friendly ear for anyone with worries or concerns. The council has produced an e-learning trans-gender package which people are encouraged to watch and an 'LGBT allies' programme which means non-LGBT people can identify themselves as supportive individuals and put the Stonewall logo on their emails.
It all adds up to a strategy in which senior managers and leaders engage in regular, face-to-face dialogue with their workforce to identify any problems and ensure they are tackled effectively.
Meanwhile a huge amount of progress has been made in UK workplaces, Stonewall says, but there is still a long way to go. Only a quarter of respondents to a nationwide survey said they would be comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to everyone at work, while 6% said they would not.
For trans people the figures are more striking. Only one in five said they would be comfortable coming out as trans, while about the same number said they would be uncomfortable doing so.
On the other hand, it seems encouraging that 83% lesbian, gay and bi respondents would feel confident reporting homophobic and biphobic bullying and harassment to their employer - although again the figure for trans people is less encouraging at only about two-thirds.
But in the local government sector, with a growing number of councils gaining Stonewall's seal of approval, it seems an enlightened attitude to inclusivity is gaining ground.
Like all good HR strategies, Newcastle's approach is ultimately about getting the best from the workforce by ensuring they feel valued.
'It means anyone can work here knowing they will be supported in the workplace,' says Louise Crosby. 'It's about giving people confidence.'
How to make your workplace LGBT-friendly - top tips
- Understand that performance suffers when people are forced to hide part of their identity
- Communicate a commitment to LGBT equality to all employees
- Explicitly state in bullying and harassment policies that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are not tolerated, giving clear examples
- Publicise available routes for reporting unacceptable behaviour
- Provide training on how to report bullying and harassment
- Educate and inform all employees of LGBT issues
- Raise the profile of people who are visible LGBT role models
- Encourage non-LGBT employees to become allies
- Encourage LGBT and LGBT allies employee network groups
- Engage non-LGBT employees in inclusivity initiatives