“Being able to be yourself at work is hugely beneficial to employees – but the business benefits too,” says Davin Roche, Director of Workplace Diversity at the Gay + Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN).

GLEN, which aims to deliver full equality, inclusion and protection from all forms of discrimination for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans people, estimates that there are over 170,000 LGBT employees in Ireland.

Over half of LGBT and Intersex (LGBTI) people surveyed said they were accepted in their workplace, are out, or feel free to be out, and that they are seen in a positive context. “They feel free to talk to colleagues about their partners and what they did at the weekend,” says Roche.

GLEN aims to make it easier for employers to benefit from diversity by ensuring their working practices are fully inclusive to LGBT staff by offering training and events. Its benchmarking scheme, the Workplace Equality Index, allows employers to see where they are on the equality journey. Its Diversity Champions programme now includes over 40 organisations with over 100,000 employees.

However, a quarter of LGBTI people surveyed said they were in the kind of hostile workplace where LGBTI jokes were tolerated, LGBTI people did not feel free to come out and the employer did not communicate positively about LGBTI equality. “Many LBGTI people have been bullied or harassed at work. That kind of behaviour leads some to hide the truth about who they really are - but organisations lose out by this,” says Roche.

A positive approach to LGBTI diversity can not only improve life for employees, but bring business benefits too.

Employees who feel able to be themselves at work are more likely to stay longer, display more loyalty and are generally more engaged

On the talent front, where attracting and retaining the best staff gives a competitive edge, organisations known for diversity and inclusivity are attractive not just to LGBTI people but to people of other backgrounds.

“Employees who feel able to be themselves at work are more likely to stay longer, display more loyalty and are generally more engaged – all of which contributes positively to the bottom line,” says Roche.

This is not just theory. Business services provider EY has shown that more diverse business units generate on average E100,000 more per person that those which are less diverse.

There is also a risk mitigation argument for diversity. “Cases of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity have been brought before tribunals, which are very costly for employers,” says Roche.

From the corporate social responsibility point of view, many large companies now require that suppliers show evidence of diversity and inclusion when bidding for contracts,” says Roche.

Diversity can also aid business development. During last year's same sex marriage referendum, taxi hailing app Hailo wrapped taxis in rainbow colours, offered free rides to the polling booths and posted a witty online video featuring a fictitious heterophobic taxi driver. “The campaign, which reflected its internal diversity philosophy, won Hailo new customers,” says Roche.