June, Pride Month, may just be the time to (re)evaluate how inclusive your workplace is for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. With over 20 million people in the US openly identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, organizations must create LGBTQIA+ welcome workplaces.
In the 1960’s, diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives were introduced in the workplace following the implementation of equal employment laws and affirmative action. To complement action taken to address biased hiring and employment practices, new laws also encouraged companies to start diversity training programs.
Fast forward to the present day, and we find D&I continues to expand and reflect changing socio-cultural priorities. While intentions are good, according to the Guardian’s Workforce 2020 report, 60% of employers agreed that D&I initiatives are a strategic priority, but only 33% have clear policies and initiatives in place.
Update Your Workplace Policies for LGBTQIA+ Inclusion
Fundamental shifts in workplace culture require buy-in, support and leadership from the top. The first step is to establish and/or improve existing workplace policies and D&I initiatives.
We shouldn’t have to say it, but we will: discrimination against people based on their gender or sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, is absolutely wrong and illegal.
Ensure the company’s anti-discrimination policies include LGBTQIA+ employees as a protected group or class. Make sure employees are familiar with the policy and ensure it is publicly available to prospective candidates via the company’s website.
Healthcare and Other Benefits
Unfortunately, LGBTQIA+ individuals may face problems with accessing healthcare, family and partner benefits. Couples, regardless of their marital status, should receive equal and fair partner and family benefits.
The organization should choose a healthcare provider that offers coverage for gender affirmation surgery, transition-related care, hormonal therapies, etc. for transgender and intersex individuals.
Healthcare education is another area to consider. Specifically, information around laws for a healthcare power of attorney. In some instances, members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been prevented from visiting or making medical decisions for spouses, partners or their families of choice.
Set the LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Baseline Through Training and Communication
One key aspect is to ensure communication makes everyone, including LGBTQIA+ folks, feel welcome. The following two initiatives will set you in the right direction:
Training should aim to help employees understand LGBTQIA+ policies. It may be best to bring in an external diversity observer who can address the specifics from an informed and unbiased perspective. Encourage an open and safe space, where employees can ask questions around the topic and understand what they should be aware of when communicating with co-workers.
Avoid burdening employees who are LGBTQIA+ individuals or allies to answer employee queries.
Inclusiveness begins with language. This means introducing gender-neutral language guidelines that can help everyone be more aware of how they communicate. Here are a few examples:
- Ask people to list their pronouns via voluntary self-identification surveys. Refer to individuals as they/them if they haven’t communicated their preference.
- Avoid addressing people as Mr. or Ms. Instead, refer to them by their name, unless specified.
- The term opposite sex assumes a binary. Instead, use terms like all sexes and all genders.
- Instead of referring to a group as guys or ladies and gentlemen, use inclusive terms like folks or everybody.
Develop an LGBTQIA+ Friendly Hiring Process
The next step in promoting inclusivity is to develop a hiring process that proactively targets LGBTQIA+ individuals, such as:
Make sure the job description reflects the organization’s stance on inclusivity. Avoid using gender-coded words such as sensitive, aggressive, ambitious, fearless and compassionate.
Use online tools, like Textio, to analyze the job description and highlight non-inclusive words and phrases, which can then be removed.
Explicitly state that applications are welcome, regardless of the applicant’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The simplest way is to post openings on job portals specifically for LGBTQIA+ candidates.
Include all gender identities in relevant sections but keep them optional. Voluntary self-identification is another tool that can be leveraged during the application process to improve diversity data collection and fine tune hiring efforts.
Build an LGBTQIA+ Safe Space
A safe space is defined as a place intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations. This means that derogatory remarks or jokes about someone’s identity are strongly discouraged, while employees are encouraged to understand and respect their co-workers’ boundaries.
Making a safe place for individuals with diverse identities allows more authentic communication, encourages acceptance and contributes to a more cohesive workplace.
Here are three key ways to build a safe space:
Networks or groups encourage LGBTQIA+ employees to come together to share their experiences and stories with each other, offering a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Involving allies in some capacity can bridge the gap between the organization and LGBTQIA+ employees.
These networks are a terrific source of feedback on new diversity initiatives and can also suggest ways to improve existing ones.
As a part of the transgender rights movement, gender self-identification enables a person to legally define their gender without medical requirements. As the topic tends to be sensitive, it is necessary to collect responses anonymously. Also, share the purpose and confidentiality guidelines with participants to promote transparency.
And finally, if you are not sure, consult a diversity expert to develop the questionnaire. Lack of nuance in the language and/or questions may be perceived negatively.
Along with Pride Month, events like International Non-Binary People’s Day (15 July) and Transgender Awareness Week (13-19 November) strive to create awareness. As an organization that promotes an inclusive culture, take part in these events in different capacities. For example, ask individuals to share their stories through social media. You can also support related parades and festivals.
Adapt to Changing Times
If it hasn’t happened yet, now is the time to evaluate and update DE&I initiatives. The times, they are a changin’ and it’s important to stay abreast of new norms. With the right policies, culture and support groups in place, employers will be able to integrate new practices and conventions faster.
Here are two simple suggestions to consider:
Make sure your dress code is written in a gender-neutral format. You can allow employees to wear comfortable clothes while ensuring that they are appropriate for the workplace. For instance, employees may only wear business casuals including slacks, knee-length skirts/dresses, polo shirts, tailored blazer, loafers and dress shoes.
Gender-neutral washrooms provide a more comfortable environment for non-binary people. You can evaluate the option of converting your existing washrooms into gender-neutral ones.
We hope this checklist gives you something to think about. If you realize your organization is a bit behind the times, maybe Pride Month is the right time to take a look and see how to improve!
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LGBTQIA+ inclusion—as with any DE&I initiative—is much more than a business issue. While it may be tempting to ask what’s the ROI of these activities? Or how did my business benefit? These would be the wrong questions to ask. Rather, consider how providing an environment that welcomes diversity (backgrounds, cultures, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) encourages people to thrive—this should be the guiding purpose.
Heather van Werkhooven
Heather is the Director of Content & Thought Leadership for Joveo.
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