How Britain’s First LGBTQ+ Certified Business Used EO to Better Embed EDI

For Pride Month, we spoke to Ed Riseman from eoa member The Big Group about running a business as an LGBTQ+ person and how employee ownership weaves EDI in the workplace to benefit all employees. 

Image: The Big Group celebrating Christmas in style - as an EO business!

Digital marketing and communications agency, The Big Group, made history when it became the first business in Britain to become certified as majority LGBTQ+ owned. 

While the transition to employee ownership resulted in the loss of their certification, it created new opportunities for greater inclusion and diversity. We sat down with General Manager Ed Riseman, who founded the company with his husband – Chairman and CEO Nick Scott – to find out more.

Britain's First Certified LGBTQ+ Owned Business

Since 2002, the USA’s LGBTQ+ business community has benefited from the support and community fostered by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). But it took almost two decades before it launched an offshoot in Britain.

OutBritain now proudly counts 500 members nationwide, plus an entire cohort of Fortune 500 corporate supporters – from Time Warner to BP – dedicated to diversifying their supplier bases. 

The organisation exists in part to certify companies that are majority owned by LGBTQ+ individuals. Ed and Nick underwent the challenging certification process, which required them to prove their relationship before they were married and to obtain letters from customers confirming they were indeed a couple.

This difficultly paid off and The Big Group was officially certified in May 2022, receiving a certificate from then Minister for Exports and Trade, Mike Freer.

"I was quite surprised by how quickly our staff – 90% of whom are heterosexual – embraced the certification and are proud to be working for a company that is rooted in inclusivity,” says Ed.

“It altered the perspective for many in the business and created a space for other areas to be more diverse and inclusive – which can be a bit tricky in the marketing industry.”

Last year, for example, The Big Group had a member of staff who came out as trans. According to Ed, the rest of the team engaged positively and respectfully, demonstrating how much the company’s culture has evolved over the past two or three years from curiosity to empathy. 

Employee Ownership or Certification?

It soon became apparent, however, that to become employee owned, The Big Group wouldn’t be able to keep its certification, as all staff members would own the business, the majority of whom did not identify as LGBTQ+ themselves.

For both Ed and Nick, the transition to an employee ownership trust (EOT) was the right decision. One which helped to maintain the original values of being a majority owned LGBTQ+ business.

“The EOT structure means that The Big Group maintains its core values and principles as it moves forward,” says Ed.

“If someone does decide to retire or sell their business, those values can still carry on in an EOT and it’s not dependent on a third party buyer coming in and taking you from an LGBTQ+ friendly company to something that is very, very different.”

Unlocking Greater EDI With EO

The process of becoming an accredited LGBTQ+ owned business helped facilitate The Big Group’s transition to an EOT.

Certification provided something for employees to rally around. With this already in place, the move to employee ownership was much easier for employees to embrace, because EO likewise provides people with something to unite behind.

“It’s a tentpole for people to get under and something that unites us all beyond just enjoying our jobs,” says Ed.

“I believe that having an employee council serves as a valuable resource, not only for our company but also for other EOT companies that I’ve spoken to. It acts as a sounding board for ideas and initiatives and provides additional momentum to senior management pushes them forward.”

He also pointed out how establishing the employee council provided a focus for better inclusion and equality on benefits in particular – an area that the business has been equalising across its three sites (London, Bath, and Amsterdam).

The Big Group is now approaching its second year of employee ownership. We couldn’t help but ask Ed what the impact has been on EDI.

“Being an EOT has significantly deepened The Big Group’s efforts to safeguard and advocate for EDI issues,” he says. 

“It’s no longer me being the boss saying we’re going to celebrate Pride Month whether everyone else wants to or not! Now it’s a reflection and celebration of the entire business rather than an initiative that comes from the top. 

“People are actively involved, moving beyond token gestures to meaningful action.”

As part of the business’ commitment to EDI, it participates in an annual engagement survey with b-Heard – the best companies to work for programme. Part of this survey is based around EDI subjects and how embedded they are within The Big Group.

Underpinning all of this is the business’ EDI team who are in place support what’s happening internally, from inclusive recruitment practices to supporting employees with protected characteristics. 

Recognising Industry Pioneers

The Big Group’s journey over the last few years serves as an inspiring model of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs leading the charge and forging their own paths forward. And it’s paid off in spades.

In fact, this year, Ed was named on the prestigious iList – a group of thirty inclusivity trailblazers in the advertising industry put together by IPA, the industry body for advertising agencies. 

In June, The Big Group are also sponsoring the breakfast at OutBritain’s OutConnect Business Summit, the UK’s first ever LGBTQ+ business conference. 

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For anything related to stories, please email Dominic

For media enquires, contact Keely

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