When you are not seen as equal in the eyes of the law, it is difficult to feel equal in society and in the workplace. I hope that today will be instrumental in helping to change that inequality.

Denise Hart is Chair of [email protected] in Northern Ireland

I’m the Chair of [email protected] in Northern Ireland, the firm’s UK-wide diversity network, so it’s no surprise I feel passionately about LGBT issues and equality. But back in August of 2017, when the Northern Ireland High Court ruled Marriage Equality as a devolved matter and LGBT equality felt further away than ever, I sent what could have been a rather career limiting email to the regional chair of PwC NI.

I was typing when cross, but due to the strong ethos of diversity and inclusion within PwC I felt empowered to ask our business leader what more could we do. What more could we do as a business to ensure that all employees of PwC, both present and future, would be equal in Northern Ireland?

As it happened, I was not the only person in PwC who believed this inequality did not reflect the firm’s UK-wide commitment to inclusion. Our national Executive Board also took the view that the absence of marriage equality in Northern Ireland did not reflect the firm’s commitment to facilitate an inclusive workplace for all 20,000 staff, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability.

With this in mind, we brought an idea to the Working with Pride collective of businesses to help push for the extension of marriage equality to Northern Ireland. After all, it’s an issue that affects our businesses, our ability to attract the best talent and ultimately our economic success. After speaking to Annette Whelan, the Chair of Working with Pride, we formed a subcommittee to work out the best way to move this forward. Fast-forward a year, and with the support of around 30 major local employers, today we stood together and said our piece.

Just like the other businesses that support today’s call, PwC is an apolitical organisation: but marriage equality is not a political issue. It is a social issue, a business issue and an equality issue. As a business, we need to be able to attract the best talent from around the UK and from around the globe. However when a section of your community is not treated as equal, Northern Ireland can seem a less attractive place to work and to live to any prospective employee thinking of coming here or indeed staying here.

John Browne, the retired CEO of BP who was outed some years ago, makes two very important observations: firstly, that lack of equality is exceptionally bad for business; and secondly – it is up to business to help affect social change in order to ensure that business can keep hiring the best talent.

As an employee of PwC I am exceptionally proud to see all these prominent businesses, my own included, publicly back this call for marriage equality. As a gay woman, I am deeply saddened that despite same sex marriage being legalised in 2014 in England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland remains apart. But as a gay woman, I am quite moved to see the businesses that have made this very public declaration of support, standing proudly with their LGBT staff and asking for them to be treated the same as they would be in the rest of Great Britain and Ireland.

Northern Ireland is a very different place than it was in the early 90s when I first came out. In my first job it took me a number of years to come out and only then to select people. I watched over the years as large numbers of my gay friends lived double lives due to not being able to be out in work. I watched other friends leave to live more open lives elsewhere in places they considered more welcoming and accepting of who they are.

Now though, more and more we see businesses publicly supporting and participating in Pride to show that equality and diversity is important to them both as a business issue and also as the right thing to do. This makes a real difference to the lives of their LGBT employees. It’s important to remember though that these decisions don’t just impact on the LGBT community. Our parents, many of whom worry about their LGBT children and their future in Northern Ireland, welcome these developments. Our straight friends welcome these moves. This informs their choices about employers and businesses they want to connect with.

I have always felt comfortable being out in PwC and indeed PwC encourages all its employees to bring their whole selves to work. However, when you are not seen as equal in the eyes of the law, it is difficult to feel equal in society and in the workplace. I hope that today will be instrumental in helping to change that inequality.