How to be Inclusive to LGBT+ Employees All Year (Not Just Pride Month)
For many members of the community, Pride month is a time about honouring the activists who have fought for LGBTQ+ rights in the face of outright hostility and violence from society as a whole.
It’s also a time to reaffirm the fact that LGBTQ+ people have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to their sexuality and gender identity, encouraging LGBTQ+ people to take the feeling of confidence celebrated by Pride and apply it to life in general, all year around.
But many employers seem to only really think about LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace during June – when it becomes useful to do so from a PR perspective. Too many organisations fail to account for the specific needs of LGBTQ+ people when it comes to diversity and inclusion strategies, creating workplaces that are uncomfortable, if not hostile, for a lot of LGBTQ+ people to work in.
We took a deeper dive on the issue and here’s our guide to how to be inclusive to LGBTQ+ employees all year – not just during Pride month.
How Pride came to be
As much as it might be uncomfortable for some people to recognise, the Pride movement emerged from the ashes of a riot – the Stonewall Riots in New York to be precise.
To be LGBTQ+ 50 years ago meant facing everything from violence and systematic discrimination through to homelessness or being fired from jobs solely because of their sexuality or gender identity.
In the early morning of June 28, 1969, police raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn, and were bewildered when the LGBTQ+ patrons physically resisted being arrested – something that had never happened before on such a scale. Fed up of years of police violence, intimidation and blackmail, LGBTQ+ patrons barricaded police in the bar and kick-started several nights of demonstrations and protests against the way they were treated in society.
It was a turning point for LGBTQ+ activism and sparked the ‘Gay Liberation Movement’ of the 1970s. A few years later, LGBTQ+ groups decided to hold an annual march in June to remember the Stonewall Riots (The Christopher Street Liberation Day March) and the increased confidence that it had given the community.
Over time, reflecting the devastating effects of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, it evolved into the Pride parades – a celebration of life, diversity and self-confidence in the LGBTQ+ community – that brighten up cities and towns around the world every June.
That’s why, fundamentally, it can be pretty galling for LGBTQ+ employees to see their employers only recognising their existence and the specific problems that they face in the workplace once a year, every June – when it becomes ‘safe’, politically-expedient and profitable to do so. It can come across as very disrespectful.
So, with the ‘why’ out of the way, here’s the ‘how’. Here are 6 of the best ways to be inclusive to LGBTQ+ employees all year around – not just during Pride month.
Educate yourself and employees on the issues
The simple fact is that LGBTQ+ people face a host of issues in life that heterosexual people don’t – or they face issues that are significantly heightened. This can have an effect in the workplace. For example, Stonewall have found that:
- Half of LGBTQ+ people (52 per cent) said they’ve experienced depression in the last year
- 13% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced some form of unequal health treatment because of their sexuality or gender identity
- 66% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people felt that there were problems with homophobia and transphobia in sport
- 1,612 trans people were murdered across the world between 2008 and 2014, equating to a killing every two days
- In over half of the world, LGBTQ+ employees face a lack of legal protection from employment discrimination
- Around 25% of people around the world believe that being LGBTQ+ should be illegal
Educating yourself, your department and your employees on the specific issues that LGBTQ+ employees face when it comes to being open about their sexuality and gender identity at work is vital if we want to really tackle homophobia and transphobia in our workplaces.
One practical way you can do that is by creating a sensitive, anonymous survey to send out to your employees, asking them about their experience at work and if they have experienced any specific issues because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Create gender neutral spaces
At a time when anti-trans and nonbinary rhetoric is gaining ground in many countries, including the UK, it’s vital that employers take a stand on behalf of their trans employees and support them at work. A practical way to do that is to convert some of your toilets to gender neutral spaces.
When it comes to discrimination in the workplace, trans and nonbinary people are at a heightened risk of abuse. Again, according to Stonewall, two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.
Gendered toilets can make some employees feel uncomfortable because they may be forced to use a toilet that doesn’t match their gender identity, and they could help to reduce the risk of hate crime incidents happening at work.
Creating gender neutral spaces, like toilets, is a relatively easy, practical way that you can demonstrate your support for trans and nonbinary employees, and start a conversation about the hidden barriers to inclusion for trans people that exist in the workplace.
It shows that your organisation isn’t just prepared to talk the talk on these issues – it also shows that you’re willing to walk the walk.
Encourage LGBTQ+ employee networks
One of the best ways to make your workplace more inclusive is to give a voice to the people that you’re trying to make your organisation more inclusive towards.
Encouraging the development of LGBTQ+ caucuses or networks in the workplace can provide a vital space for LGBTQ+ employees to network, develop confidence and play a role in shaping company policies to make a more welcoming work environment for everyone.
Employee committees can also be a great way to boost staff morale and make employees feel valued, and respected, as part of the workplace.
LGBTQ+ employee networks can be as formal or informal as you want, depending on your overall diversity and inclusion strategy. A formal body that submits recommendations to your organisation’s board can be useful in some instances, whereas a socially focused network that provides a place for LGBTQ+ employees to network might be more appropriate in other situations.
Develop LGBTQ+ friendly policies
As a very basic way to improve inclusivity all year round, you should be looking at how you can make particular company policies more LGBTQ+ friendly.
Whilst it might be tempting to think that your current policies will be sufficient when it comes to protecting LGBTQ+ people, the specific issues that affect people in this demographic call for specific responses.
It could involve thinking about things like:
- Updating abuse and harassment training resources to cover LGBTQ+ specific issues, like hate crime and domestic abuse
- Updating parental leave policies to include LGBTQ+ families
- Creating gender transition resources and support for employees who need it
- Providing mental health support tailored towards LGBTQ+ employees
Don’t pretend that your company is perfect
One of the biggest mistakes that an employer can make when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the workplace is to be under the impression that their company is perfect and that, as a result, nothing needs to change.
Just because you are unaware of a problem, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Stonewall’s ‘LGBT at Work’ report makes for some startling reading about the experience of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. The report found that:
- Nearly one in five LGBTQ+ employees (18%) reported being the target of negative comments or actions from workplace colleagues because of their sexuality or gender identity in the last 12 months.
- More than a third of LGBTQ+ employees (35%) report that they feel uncomfortable disclosing their sexuality or gender identity at work due to a fear of discrimination.
- 18% of LGBTQ+ people reported being discriminated against in the hiring process because of their sexuality or gender identity.
- One in eight lesbian, gay and bisexual people and one in five trans people would not feel comfortable reporting bullying or hate crime to their employer.
Keeping an open mind about the experience of LGBTQ+ people in your workplace is important when it comes to building a welcoming workplace environment.
Don’t be afraid to take a stand
Sometimes doing the right thing and defending a marginalised group under attack as an organisation isn’t easy. This is particularly true when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. It can be scary and involve taking financial, reputational and even physical risks sometimes.
But when it comes to principles, it’s important that you take a stand on issues that matter to your organisation – the employees that you’re supporting will really thank you for it. Why? Because the stance that you take as an individual organisation in a wider world plays a much bigger role in promoting tolerance in society than you might think.
Real, lasting change in attitudes isn’t achieved by piecemeal rights handed down from on high. It’s achieved by people, organisations and businesses working at a grassroots level. The public example you set as an organisation contributes to the efforts of hundreds of thousands of individual efforts by other businesses and groups doing the same thing, building momentum for positive change in society.
To quote late Civil Rights musician, Pete Seeger, ‘Step by step, the longest march can be won. Many stones can form an arch, singly none.’
We hope you’ve found this blog thought-provoking and that it’s challenged you to think about how you can make your HR practice more inclusive towards LGBTQ+ employees. We’d love to hear about the steps your organisation has taken!
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