According to Guardian’s Workforce 2020 report, nearly 12 million Americans identify as LGBTQ. Yet, while 6 in 10 employers say diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a priority for their company, only 1 in 3 employers have initiatives, policies or a D&I team in place. The same report found 68% of American workers strongly agree it’s important to work for an employer that creates an inclusive workplace culture.
A challenge companies face is assimilating people from various backgrounds and gender identities to feel included in the overall company culture. Small behavior and language changes such as gender-coded language can help diverse individuals feel more included.
This initiative should not, and cannot, be led only by human resources. Leaders at all levels need to be onboard and change their behaviors and language to engage others. There might be some turnover in the beginning, but that’s to be expected with change. Contrary to popular belief, not all turnover is bad turnover. Good turnover helps rid those who aren’t aligned with the culture and where the company is heading.
This year, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act now protects transgendered and gay employees from being discriminated against in the workplace. This means, if managers discriminate due to someone’s gender identity, a lawsuit could ensue in federal court. However, there’s still a long way to go in making the LGBTQ community feel safe, included, valued and protected.
Here are four ways companies can make their workplace more LGBTQ inclusive.
Update Policies And Ensure Inclusive Benefits
Employers should make it a priority to revisit and update their policies to be more inclusive to their LGBTQ+ employees. In addition to their policies they should consider implementing diversity or pride days dedicated to celebrating employee differences. Guardian Life was proactive in meeting the needs of today’s diverse workforce by updating their benefits package to make sure their LGBTQ employee’s are supported.
Melissa Kepler, training consultant at LMI and strengths coach at Capital Humans, recommended removing gendered language from policies. For example, if there’s a policy centered around children, companies should take out terms like “mother” and “father” and use “parent” instead.
If an employee is transitioning, consider offering a coach or appointing an individual as a means of support. This individual will be there to assist and listen to the transition employee. Moreover, companies might want to update their current medical plans and sick leave policy to include transitioning employees.
Lastly, actively communicating updated policies, expectations and consequences often and through various channels is key. It’s crucial employees understand that discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation, etc… will not be tolerated.
Train On Inclusivity In Language
Regarding language, the current recruiting strategy should be revisited to ensure LGBTQ applicants aren’t excluded. Evaluate the current language used in job descriptions and replace any gender-coded terms with neutral language.
Dan Bailey, President of WikiLawn, avoids using terms that are gender-coded and defaults to a more neutral term whenever possible. He said, “it’s important to me to strive for inclusivity because it’s not recognized as a necessity in our industry. I’d like to be a part of the change toward the better.”
Kepler stated, when speaking to the team, instead of addressing them with “ladies and gentlemen”, companies should instead start saying “valued employees” or something similar. In addition, it’s essential to understand pronoun preferences and require email signatures to include their pronoun preference.
Hire An Inclusivity Specialist And Run Workshops To Educate
It’s not the job or responsibility of the employee to educate their coworkers. Rex Freiberger, CEO of Discuss Diets, “it’s not a terrible idea to hire a consultant who identifies as gay or trans to look over the training materials and make sure they company is promoting the right messages.”
Training on LGBTQ inclusion should not be a once and done event. At the least, it should be required for all new hires as well as on an annual basis. When doing an annual discrimination and sexual harassment training, companies should include training on LGBTQ. This keeps it top of mind and reminds employees that they are an inclusive workplace.
Furthermore, external change is just as important as internal change. This means separating from clients who are actively anti-LGBTQ as well as openly celebrating pride days and making it clear on the company’s stance on accepting the LGBTQ community.
Be Aware Of The Do’s And Don’ts
Let the employee decide if, when and how they’ll tell their colleagues. The employer needs to respect the employee’s decision and shouldn’t pressure them to do anything in which they’re uncomfortable.
Having said that, it is the employers responsibility to create a safe space for all employees. This means, being vigilant against discrimination regardless of how subtle it may be as well as being understanding of what makes the employee uncomfortable. Daniel Carter, founder of Zippy Electronics shared what this might look like:
- Referring to the employee as their previous name and/or gender
- Asking personal questions surrounding their transition, surgical or medical history or how they came out
- Excluding them from events, meetings, etc…
- Giving unsolicited advice on how they should dress and keep themselves groomed
This is not a conclusive list, but it is a start to creating a more inclusive LGBTQ workplace. It’s important to note that regardless of what an employer implements, if they’re not actively onboard and showing their support, those policies and trainings fall flat. To maintain an LGBTQ inclusive workplace means to consistently communicate and seek the feedback of your LGBTQ employees.
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