Creating an LGBT inclusive workplace isn’t just the right thing to do. It makes business sense, too.
"Inclusive workplaces ensure employees are safe, respected and able to fully contribute” says Jackie Ferguson, Head of Content & Programming at The Diversity Movement. “An Oxford study showed that employees that are happy at work are 13% more productive, which means greater profitability for any business.”
We caught up with six LGBT entrepreneurs, LGBT founders and diversity and inclusion advocates to get their top tips for building an inclusive workplace. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Recognise that identities are complex
“Identities are complex and intersectional” says career coach Kyle Elliott, “Recognise that employees who identify as LGBT may also belong to other historically oppressed communities as well.”
Support your LBGT staff by understanding that everyone is different. Set time aside to get to know your team and create a safe space for them to share issues they’re having, if they want to.
2. Celebrate openness
“One of the most important parts of being LGBTQ+ inclusive is sharing my story openly and creating a positive culture within our team” says business mindset and manifesting coach Dr Morgana McCabe Allan. “As a pansexual cisgender woman married to a straight cisgender male, my LGBTQ+ identity is hidden by the assumptions others make when then they encounter me. By being present to that, and showing up as actively embracing my sexuality and that of all others, we promote safety and belonging.”
3. But don’t expect anyone to ‘out’ themselves
Being ‘out’ at work is a choice. Many people won’t feel safe or comfortable outing themselves at work, so design your programmes to include people, whether they are ‘out’ or not.
4. Create a community
An effective LGBT network should have clear aims, responsibilities, resources and support from leaders at the highest level.
Including people whether they are LGBT or not is vital. This helps to establish an organisation-wide culture, shows that inclusion is something everybody can take action on, and it allows people to participate without being forced to ‘out’ themselves.
It’s especially important if your company operates in places that are less safe and inclusive, including the 70+ countries that criminalise being LGBTQ+.
“A network of LGBTQ+ people and allies helps people in less progressive countries sign up as an ally if they’re not out” says Thom Allcott, Global head of strategic initiatives at YouGov.
5. Make allyship visible
At YouGov, the LGBTQ+ and allies network can display stickers on their desks to show their membership of and support for the network. At Accenture, allies have a rainbow lanyard for their security pass.
Recruit LGBT+ inclusion champions and allies from all levels of your organisation, and make sure you have visible support and sponsorship from senior leaders.
6. Know that there’s no quick fix
There’s no button you can press for instant LGBT inclusion. It’s a never-ending journey.
“You need to inject training and expectations around inclusion into all your contact with your team” says performance manager Ryan, “From on-boarding to promotion milestones, this shows that LGBT inclusivity is part of the culture.”
7. It’s not all Pride and parties
“We have come so far in terms of LGBT rights in the 52 years since the Stonewall uprising” says Allcott, “But there is still a lot to be done. Trans people are the most at-risk group in our community right now and they face very difficult situations all the time, some of them risk being beaten up, some even being killed. For organisations trying to progress LGBT policy and make and become a better LGBT employer there are a lot of steps that they can take.”
Acknowledge the serious risks that some staff face, and provide support wherever you can.
8. Cultivate compassion
We are all at different stages in our journey. “In my team, some of us are super passionate about understanding gender and sexuality” says programme manager Mita, “And then you have people who’ve never heard there’s a difference between biological sex and gender. They find it confusing.”
Sometimes it’s right to call people out. Mistakes like using someone’s old name after they’ve transitioned can be incredibly harmful. But where it’s safe and appropriate to do so, encourage your team to call people in rather than call them out.
Calling out assumes the worst. Calling in assumes that we’re all human, we make mistakes and we want to learn how to do better.
9. Don’t ask minoritised colleagues to educate the others
Sometimes, more engaged colleagues like to share their knowledge with less engaged colleagues, but don’t place the burden of education on your staff, especially LGBT ones. If people wish to share their knowledge, make it easy for them to do so. If not, be prepared to invest the time, energy and resources needed to get your team up to speed.
10. Let people choose their own labels
Some people find labels like gay, trans, queer or bi really empowering. For others, labels feel painful and oppressive.
Let people choose. If someone wants to come out as trans or gay, offer them support. If not, leave people free not to put themselves in boxes.
If you use a central employee database or HR software, remove anything that gets in the way of people changing their pronouns or name on their official record.
If an employee wants to change their name, for example, make sure they can do this without requiring a deed poll. Educate the wider team on why respecting somebody’s chosen name is essential.
11. Mind your language
Language matters. It can help people feel included, empowered and protected. When language is misused, it can leave people feeling alienated, lost and stigmatised.
Create a list of inclusive terms (like the one below) to help your team use the right language.
- Hi all, folks, team, friends, team, everybody, everyone, or specific terms like customers, clients, employees
- Invite your partners, spouses to the event
- Chair, chairperson, door attendant, bartender, server etc
- Best person for the job
- The person in the green shirt
- Sexual orientation, sexuality
- Gender identity
- Trans, trans person, transgender person, trans man, trans woman
- Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer (a reclaimed slur term that many people identify with, but others find offensive)
- Employees should read guidance carefully
Not inclusive terms
- Hi guys, ladies, gentlemen
- Invite your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife to the event
- Chairman, doorman, barman, barmaid, waiter, waitress etc
- Best man for the job
- The man in the green shirt
- Sexual preference
- Sex (mistaking sex for gender)
- Transgendered, transwoman, transman
- Decided to be/become a man or woman,
- The man in the green shirt
- Each employee should read his guidance carefully
12. Normalise pronouns
"Including pronouns in your email signature and social media profiles is an important move towards inclusivity," says LGBTQ+ Inclusion Consultant Gina Battye. “Adding these words to your email signature has the practical benefit of making clear how you would like to be referred to, while also signalling to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns. It is an effective way of normalising discussions about gender and creating an inclusive work environment for transgender and non-binary people."
Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing their pronouns. You could say something like:
Anyone who wants to add their pronouns to their email signature is welcome to. Adding these words helps make it clear that we respect each other’s gender identities and normalise conversations about gender.
You can display pronouns in Slack profiles, Zoom participant names, staff bios, HR and payroll software, PowerPoint templates, nametags, nameplates and business cards.
13. Don’t show the flag if you aren’t doing the work
Too many companies slap the rainbow logo on their website during Pride month, without contributing in a meaningful way to LGBTQ+ rights and equality.
At best, this is tokenisation. It could even backfire for marginalised people, making them feel they will be welcome but then bringing them into harmful environments.
“Contribute to grassroots organisations” says Allcott. That way, you’re helping support the movement and getting support to people that work in challenging environments, and are often the least likely to get funds.
14. Create a strong inclusion policy
And actually use it.
Policies are great, but what matters more is having a growth mindset, ambition, and a real commitment to becoming a truly inclusive workplace. Following steps like these, you’ll be well on your way to making that a reality.