Speaking at the Stonewall Workplace Conference in London today, the Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called on British businesses to do more to celebrate diversity and not merely to ‘tolerate’ lesbian, gay and bisexual staff.

Stonewall’s biggest-ever Workplace Conference – supported by Barclays – gave over 600 delegates from major British employers a chance to hear from speakers including Yvette Cooper, broadcasters Evan Davis and Alice Arnold, Paralympics GB women’s sitting volleyball captain Claire Harvey, and Barclaycard CEO Valerie Soranno Keating. ITV, Ben & Jerry’s, Procter & Gamble and the Royal Navy were among the organisations sharing best practice with other employers.

In her speech Yvette Cooper thanked Stonewall for advancing equality in the workplace and said Parliament had to live up to the example the charity had set. ‘The truth is, we don’t have enough openly gay and lesbian MPs being selected for Parliament, just as we don’t have enough black and minority ethnic MPs and we don’t have enough women MPs. Parliament ought to represent the country – it ought to look like the country that we stand for and represent. We know that we have a huge amount more to do, both in Labour and across the other political parties.’

During his speech about innovation, the broadcaster and economist Evan Davis suggested companies should learn from those in Silicon Valley who embrace difference and don’t see diversity as simply a question of sexual orientation, disability or ethnicity. ‘It’s broader – you want to involve introverts and extraverts, optimists and pessimists, thinkers and people who do things. Diversity doesn’t just mean having people who fit a pre-assigned category but are otherwise identical to everyone else.’

Stonewall Deputy Chief Executive Laura Doughty said: ‘People perform better when they can be themselves, and it’s no coincidence that employers who recognise this perform far better than those who don’t. It’s fantastic to see so many great employers taking equality so seriously, and treating it as a significant factor in their success.’

Stonewall’s next Workplace Conference is in Manchester on 14 June. Booking is open now at www.stonewall.org.uk/wpc2013manchester

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