AUSTRALIA’S public sector is falling behind on LGBTI inclusion, new research has revealed.

Of the 20 highest-ranked organisations in the annual Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) of LGBTI friendly employers, only one-in-five comes from the public sector.

In contrast, half the organisations in the top 20 of the equivalent British Stonewall index are publicly-owned, including government departments and local councils.

Dawn Hough, Director of Pride in Diversity – which organises the AWEI – told the Star Observer that making workplaces more inclusive for LGBTI employees was simply not a priority for some public bodies.

Professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was awarded 2015’s most LGBTI friendly employer at Friday’s ceremony held in Sydney – the second year the company has topped the table.

Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, Curtin University and Goldman Sachs also made it into the top five.

Suzi Russell-Guildford (pictured above), a tax partner and executive sponsor of PwC’s LGBTI employee network, put the win down to involving everyone in inclusion initiatives.

“There’s a risk that when you run strategies around diversity that it just involves the diverse people,” she said.

“If you don’t go mainstream then you just don’t get it embedded in the culture and I feel PwC has really turned the corner on that.”

In March, PwC was one of a number of companies to sign a letter calling on the government to embrace marriage equality.

“We are strong believers that including people of all different diverse strands makes sense for work,” Russell-Guildford said.

“I’m gay, I’m married in the UK, I’ve got two children and I wouldn’t be able to do my job if PwC didn’t support me as a gay mother.”

Hough, who is a member of PwC’s diversity advisory board, said one of the initiatives that made the company a stand-out was the high level of engagement on LGBTI issues at an executive level.

She also said the AWEI benchmark was raised this year, with extra marks given to organisations that could show they were working with suppliers who shared their views on LGBTI inclusion.

“We work on the notion that to shift practice we need to constantly shift the bar,” Hough said.

Aside from Curtin University, the University of Western Australia (UWA) was the only public sector organisation to make it into the top 10 while the Australian Federal Police and Department of Defence tied for 17th position.

Last year, three public-sector bodies made it into the top 10 and in 2011 – the first year of the AWEI rankings – four such organisations were represented.

“It’s really quite sad,” Hough said.

“If you look at the UK the public sector is leading the way whereas as here it’s financial services so we need to get a lot more public sector organisations engaged.”

Hough said many public bodies took their cue from government on which areas of diversity to concentrate on and LGBTI inclusion was not high on the list.

“Unless it’s an area they are accountable for then it’s a ‘nice if we’ve got the budget’ rather than ‘we need to focus on this’,” she said.

“The answer is to make it an accountable area and that’s tough and may not happen for a while.”

Hough praised Curtin and UWA, both of which also scored well on the recent Star Observer-backed Australian LGBTI University Guide, for beating many larger companies.

On Friday, Hong Kong-based organisation Community Business released the territory’s first LGBTI workplace index.

Financial services organisations nabbed nine of the 10 top places with ANZ Bank – which also made it into the AWEI top 10 – the highest placed Australian company.

The top 20 most LGBTI-friendly workplaces according to the 2015 Australian Workplace Equality Index:

1. PricewaterhouseCoopers
2. Westpac Group
3. Curtin University
4. Commonwealth Bank of Australia
5. Goldman Sachs
6. ANZ
7. Macquarie Bank (first year in Top 10)
8. Lend Lease
9. National Australia Bank (first year in Top 10)
10. The University of Western Australia
11. IBM
12. Ernst & Young
13. Australian Red Cross Blood Service
=14. Accenture
=14. Allens
16. UnitingCare Ageing NSW.ACT
=17. Australian Federal Police
=17. Department of Defence
19. Herbert Smith Freehills
20. Telstra

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