LGBTQ+ visibility has improved a lot in the past decade. Recent Pride events around the world have broken attendance records and a global equality fund has been established to help protect the rights of grassroots LGBTQIA+ organizations.
It is important to celebrate progress. However, LGBTQ+ individuals around the world still face massive discrimination. In the U.K., 21% of LGBT people have experienced a hate crime due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and 41% of trans respondents had experienced a hate crime in the past 12 months.
It’s a similar story in the USA, where LGBTQ people are four times as likely than non-LGBTQ people to experience violent crime.
As an employer, you can’t make global ignorance disappear. However, you can ensure that the LGBTQ+ employees at your workplace are safe and feel at home.
As well-intentioned as you may be, you cannot expect to be seen as an equitable employer if you do not have a clear non-discrimination policy. A non-discrimination policy helps you enforce workplace rules and sets a clear standard for everyone to follow. This should proactively prevent most forms of abuse from occurring and safeguard any folks who are at risk.
You should also be prepared to enforce your non-discrimination policy. Too often, companies make bold commitments to inclusion in the workplace, then allow coworkers to get away with discriminatory slurs or behaviors. Failing to use the non-discrimination policy will undermine LGBTQ+ employees’ trust in you and your company, so be sure to take appropriate action when discrimination occurs.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a popular concept amongst progressive corporations of all sizes. However, most employees will only receive DEI training if they are fortunate enough to attend a university or have had a progressive employer in the past.
As an employer, you must give folks a chance to educate themselves. For example, some people may have heard of terms like microaggressions, but few people understand the difference between behavioral, verbal, and environmental microaggressions. As an employer, you’re in a great position to help employees learn more about how discrimination affects their peers by hosting mandatory DEI workshops and training sessions.
As a progressive employer, you probably don’t use slurs or intentionally discriminatory language in your communications. But when was the last time you reviewed your emails, internal messages, and branded messaging for inclusivity?
You may be surprised to find that a lot of your communication materials are not inclusive, and may make some folks in your workplace feel “othered.”
Take a look through documents like hiring materials and company-wide emails. Note any areas where you may have used non-inclusive language and aim to use LGBTQ+ inclusive language in the future. Even small changes like referring to an employee’s significant others as “partners” and “spouses” in official documents can make a big difference.
Offer Benefits to Support LGBTQ+
Benefits are as important to your employees as the salary you pay them and the work you ask them to complete. However, few companies use their benefits packages to offer targeted support to LGBTQ+ employees.
There are plenty of potential benefits that support LGBTQ+ employees. Some of the most important packages make up for lapses in governmental support. For example, many LGBTQ+ folks aren’t guaranteed parental leave or adoption benefits by law. Additionally, LGBTQ+ individuals will benefit from a robust health care policy that supports their mental health and covers fees like hormone replacement therapy and surgery which aren’t covered by national health services.
When drawing up your next benefits package, be sure to work with HR professionals who understand the pressures that LGBTQ+ employees may face in your local area. The issues that LGBTQ+ individuals face are largely dependent on context, and knowledgeable HR professionals may even suggest creative solutions like allowing remote work so employees can live in LGBTQ+ safe cities like Portland or Austin.
Setting the foundation for inclusivity and a safe environment is important. But DEI training, an inclusivity statement, and a robust benefits package should be seen as the minimum for a progressive employer.
If you want to create a safe environment for your LGBTQ+ employees, you need to actively celebrate openness in the workplace.
You can foster openness by learning to become a good LGBTQ+ ally and showing your support for folks from all sexual orientations and/or gender identities. This will look different depending on your field of work, but it should always center on the ideas and experiences that your LGBTQ+ employees have. The goal is to make folks feel welcome, not celebrate yourself for being inclusive.
Do Not Pressure
Supporting LGBTQ+ people at work is important. However, many well-meaning cis-gendered heterosexual (“Cishet”) people end up doing more harm than good. Usually, this occurs when Cishet leaders fail to acknowledge differences between folks that are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
A common example of unintentional harm occurs when companies mandate the sharing of pronouns at work. Progressive, well-meaning employers can accidentally pressure people to “out” themselves in front of their peers by insisting that everyone shares their pronouns. Forcing folks to share their pronouns puts unnecessary pressure on people who may not be ready to tell their co-workers about their true gender identity and may end up causing harm or stress.
Instead, try to foreground LGBTQ+ employees and move from a place of tactful respect. Instead of mandating all employees to share their pronouns upfront, suggest it to employees that feel comfortable doing so. This approach finds a balance between allowing your employees to share how they would like to be addressed, and also giving space to those who aren’t ready to come out about their gender identity.
When in doubt, you can also address your employees with your own preferred pronouns first to normalize the behavior. The more normalized this becomes, the more comfortable your employees will feel about sharing their identity in due time.
Encourage LGBTQ+ Community
As an employer, it’s easy to forget that a power imbalance exists between yourself and your employees. However, your employees are unlikely to forget that you have authority over them and that you hold the power to make a meaningful difference in their quality of life if you don’t get along.
This means that, even if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community yourself, it is worth encouraging LGBTQ+ networking and events that exist on a peer-to-peer level in your workplace. This helps your employees feel at ease when talking about issues and challenges they face and ensures you don’t overstep any boundaries.
You can also take a leading role in LGBTQ+ issues in your community. Ideally, you should ask all of your employees about which LGBTQ+ causes to support before you throw your weight into it, as others may have a better insight into the issue than you.
Creating a safe environment for LGBTQ+ employees is essential for businesses of all sizes. You can start working towards a better work environment for all by investing in DEI training and creating a non-discrimination policy that everyone abides by. You can also step up your commitment to safety and inclusion by supporting local LGBTQ+ causes and providing a robust benefits package to help folks feel secure and supported by your company,