June was a significant month, celebrating Armed Forces Day and Pride Month. Both the LGBTQ+ and veteran communities have historically faced significant barriers in achieving recognition and equal rights while relying on community support to see them through. Including them in business activities is important work all year long, not just in June.

It’s a sad fact that veterans, when returning from war, face stigma for perceived mental health difficulties and combat stress. LGBTQ+ employees have also faced discrimination, with Stonewall (2018) reporting that 18% of LGBTQ+ employees faced workplace harassment, while 12% of Trans employees were attacked by employees or customers. 

Veterans comprise 3% of the UK workforce, with approximately 1.85 million veterans living in England and Wales. The 2021 census says that an estimated 11% of people identify as something other than straight. It’s important that these significant numbers of employees feel supported in the workplace.

Barriers and assumptions

LGBTQ+ and veteran employees can be more susceptible to poor mental health, stress, and addiction because of the unique stressors and challenges they face. Veterans may grapple with trauma from their service, reintegration into civilian life, and the potential stigma associated with seeking mental health support. LGBTQ+ employees can encounter discrimination, harassment, and the strain of concealing their identity in non-inclusive environments (known as ‘minority stress’). These factors can contribute to a heightened risk of mental health issues and substance abuse.

However, it is crucial to acknowledge that these experiences are not universal; many veterans and LGBTQ+ individuals lead healthy, fulfilling lives, and their mental health outcomes can vary based on personal circumstances and support systems. As mentioned earlier, many veterans report discrimination from being assumed to have PTSD. It’s important that any method of inclusion is holistic and puts the employees at the heart of it.

Organisations should develop internal equality networks to let different groups express themselves and find a community within the wider business. Internal veterans’ associations are one way to bring ex-service colleagues together and give them a space to discuss their experiences and express support needs. These equality networks can overlap depending on demographics, but others could include a pride network for LGBTQ+ colleagues, a parents and carers’ network, a race network, a (dis)ability network, an interfaith network and an intergenerational network.

Community strength

Veterans’ associations, for example, can allow for active and retired members of organisations to come together. For example, Corps Security has set up its own Corps Veterans Association (CVA), a space for those who have served in the United Kingdom or Commonwealth Armed Forces to come together. It is also open to all colleagues to join as associate members. Anyone who feels an affinity with veterans, whether their family members or close friends have served, should be allowed paid memberships to veterans’ associations – as it allows them to support the cause.

CVA members regularly come together to foster unity, share experiences, and support one another in navigating civilian life. The CVA Facebook community page serves as a forum for members to connect, share experiences, provide mutual support, and organise fundraising and charity events. Importantly, this community also opens up space for fundraising, with the CVA maintaining an ongoing partnership with Combat Stress – the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health, and SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity serving personnel, veterans and their families.

LGBTQ+ employees can benefit from flatter internal structures – where any colleague can raise issues and be listened to. Regularly holding forums and employee experience surveys can let employees express how they feel. That way, safe spaces can serve as advocacy platforms where colleagues can address barriers they face and collaborate on creating solutions.

Advocating for change

With internal support structures, these groups can be proactive in advocating for more inclusive policies. For example, LGBTQ+ groups can inform on new terms and glossary guides for supporting front-facing colleagues. It is also important not to overlook things such as providing inclusive uniforms for people of any gender.

Regular workshops are also a great way to raise awareness of organisational barriers and foster more inclusive environments. These can be delivered by subject matter experts internally, or include external guest speakers and figureheads such as queer filmmaker Lous Norman, who has held talks about supporting age diversity, for example. These educational and motivational sessions can help expand mindsets and support people that might not be directly affected but may equip them to support someone else.

Outside events

Internal networks and structures are the best way to support colleagues day-to-day, but getting involved in external initiatives is a great way to bolster your organisation’s connection to wider networks. For LGBTQ colleagues, if your organisation is spread out nationally, identify the different events happening during Pride month, for example, and organise times that colleagues can attend. Too often, organisations focus on major cities, but many local Pride marches take place across the country, and employers can make a sponsorship pledge to let groups be part of the parade. The money is often invested in local LGBTQ+ charities and grassroots organisations.

In summary

Despite facing barriers within the workplace, company initiatives like these help promote employee satisfaction for everyone, all year round. Where different communities might overlap and affect the experience of one person, such as a Gay veteran, creates intersectionality across the whole organisation. Companies must continue to learn from and support as many diverse employees as they can. The first step is creating spaces that let employees advocate for themselves, and the second is making sure you listen to what they have to say.

By looking holistically, employees can feel supported at work to achieve their potential in their careers.

Seetan Varsani
Seetan Varsani
Divisional Director at Corps Security

Seetan Varsani is the Divisional Director for Corps Security. Seetan joined the business over eight years ago and currently leads all operations across London. He focuses on strategic development, ensuring innovation and welfare enhancements improve the experiences of customers and colleagues. Seetan heads up the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Group: Corps Together, at Corps Security.