What every organisation can do today – internally and externally – to support queer employees.
Gender identity and sexual orientation should never lead to job loss or other workplace discrimination. With human decency and sound business decisions as the baseline, here are five key things your company can do better to support LGBTQ+ employees.
1. Make a point to counteract the pressure to be silent and “say gay”
If this is something your company isn’t used to, you might feel awkward at first. That means you’re doing something right – the discomfort you take on should make the workplace more welcoming for LGBTQ+ employees.
“Saying gay” at work can look like:
- Publicly celebrating Pride and telling stories of how your business interacts with and supports the LGBTQ+ community.
- Acknowledging significant community joys, tragedies, or fears.
- Auditing employee benefits and communications to evaluate how every line applies to LGBTQ+ people —LGBTQ+ employees must often read between the lines to find their places in perks like family leave or fertility benefits.
- Funding volunteer activities.
- Sponsoring an ERG group and soliciting ways the group would like company support.
If you have leaders who are out, ask if they’d be willing to tell their story publicly so others know they can be themselves and be promoted, too. Leaders should ask queer employees the same questions about spouses and partners that they do straight employees — how they met, what they do for work, their weekend plans — to show none of this is taboo.
Silence is not neutral. Proactive inclusion – like including everyone’s pronouns on email signatures – signal that LGBTQ+ employees are safe and respected in your workplace. Companies should also reflect on differences in what they say and do in public versus internal spaces.
Do you only talk about LGBTQ+ people when you make your logo a rainbow on social media during Pride month? Do you rely on and appreciate your LGBTQ+ teammates, but are too scared of brand risk to make that support publicly visible?
Any disconnect stands out as hypocrisy and renders even positive actions untrustworthy.
2. Invest in employee wellbeing initiatives
Many companies are investing in employee wellbeing programs and enjoying the benefits they bring, such as improvements in retention and recruitment. But wellbeing initiatives only have a chance at rectifying the discrepancy in straight and LGBTQ+ people’s experiences if you also “say gay.”
Otherwise, they’ll just call the Employee Assistance Program or use daily meditation and exercise to deal with the distress of being in a workplace where the stakes are too high to let their guard down.
3. Pay special attention to BAME employees
According to research by Stonewall, Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) LGBTQ+ staff members are more likely to have a negative workplace experience than both non-LGBTQ+ employees, and white LGBTQ+ employees.
For example, they are 5% more likely than other LGBTQ+ employees to be excluded by colleagues because of their sexuality or gender identity, and 8% more likely to lose a job due to being LGBTQ+. It’s important for organisations to consider that the intersectionality of employees identities will inform their experience of the workplace, and to establish initiatives that specifically support BAME LGBTQ+ employees.
These could include workshops to help educate all employees, or setting up and supporting Employee Resource Groups tailored to these members of staff.
4. Invest in this work knowing that you might not be aware of everyone who will benefit
Don’t make the mistake of assuming you know how many or which people in your organization would be supported by an ERG or feel included through your DEIB efforts.
More than a third of LGBTQ+ employees have hidden their sexuality or gender identity at work.
Take the time to send a gender-neutral plus-one invite to the company social, create an inclusive benefits package, wear a name tag with your pronouns — and you might be surprised by who feels your care.
5. Be an ally here and now
Being an ally is about fundamentally sending a signal that LGBTQ+ relationships matter and LGBTQ+ people are valued and respected, even as homophobia and transphobia are still sadly rife.
Inclusive employers need to understand the level of attack their people are under, take strong public stands against these threats, and do everything they can to preserve their people’s safety.
While “saying gay” is a necessary signal, supporting LGBTQ+ rights is the necessary action.
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