Wed 17 Jun 2020
As this week’s US Supreme Court ruling demonstrates, awareness is building around discrimination against LGBT people and the importance of ensuring that all staff feel safe and are treated fairly at work. In the UK, considerable progress has been made in recent decades and the rights of LGBT workers have been recognised and protected in law for some time now. Nevertheless, many LGBT people still experience significant prejudice at work. Research by Stonewall in 2018 found that, in the previous year, 35% of LGBT staff concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of discrimination, whilst 18% of LGBT jobseekers said they faced discrimination in the workplace. 18% of LGBT staff were subject to negative comments or conduct from colleagues in the last year due to their LGBT identity, whilst 12% of trans people were physically attacked by customers or colleagues.
Ensuring that all staff can contribute fully at work, without fear of ill-treatment, is fundamental to an organisational culture underpinned by dignity and respect. There are numerous steps which organisations can take to ensure that LGBT staff feel safe and included, from identifying and addressing barriers and bias, to advancing culture change, education and awareness. Four core considerations in achieving this are outlined below.
1. Policy matters
Specific, written aims and policies are a crucial first step in achieving an LGBT-inclusive workplace. By establishing and communicating a commitment to LGBT inclusion, and by following through on that commitment with action, organisations create a solid foundation for greater inclusivity and belonging.
Family-related and pension policies should be reviewed to provide for same-sex couples, adoption leave and shared parental leave. Equally, anti-discrimination policies should make explicit that unfair treatment of staff and colleagues on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is not tolerated within the organisation. Establishing policies which take the specific needs of staff who are transitioning into account should also be considered.
Beyond reviewing fundamental workplace policies, consider what goals and commitments would be most pertinent in advancing diversity and LGBT-inclusivity in your specific organisation. Should recruitment processes be afforded attention? Could staff training workshops be more constructive? Would a round of staff surveys and data collection provide greater clarity and aid the process?
Communicating LGBT-inclusive policies and aims clearly, both internally and externally, is vital in ensuring that staff are aware of company values and aspirations. Such communication can influence workforce demographics as well as culture, as prospective and current LGBT staff are made to feel more comfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity in a work context.
2. Support Networks
Supporting the creation of an LGBT staff network is an effective way of fostering a sense of belonging amongst LGBT staff, by providing a space for staff to come together, share experiences and offer peer-to-peer support. Networks have a wider role to play in organisational life too, however, as a driver of change and community. Networks often serve a consultative function with management, for example, by granting senior figures and decision makers with crucial insight into employee experience and providing guidance on what aspects of organisational life require attention. Awareness days, communications and events led by LGBT networks can also enable positive conversation, education and understanding amongst the broader workforce.
3. Engage allies and role models at all levels
Allies, both amongst the workforce at large and at senior management level, are integral to the creation of an inclusive culture; it is only in the context of mutual appreciation and understanding that everyone can truly belong. LGBT staff networks, and the interactions which they facilitate, provide opportunities for the engagement of LGBT allies, either through direct involvement with the network or stemming from wider conversations relating to LGBT visibility within the organisation. Support from allies ensures that LGBT staff experience a wider acceptance and collegiality within the workforce. Allies also have a pivotal role in establishing an environment where discrimination, bias, or inappropriate remarks are not tolerated. Senior LGBT allies and role models can be especially consequential in advancing positive change, as senior leaders have visibility and influence which can create a trickle-down effect in terms of organisational messaging and culture.
4. Language barriers
Language can play a pivotal role in LGBT inclusion, although it is an area which can create anxiety both for LGBT staff and for their colleagues. Establishing habits and norms around language usage can provide clarity and ensure that all staff are comfortable and informed. Including pronouns in email signatures or along with names and job titles during rounds of introductions at meetings provides an opportunity for trans or non-binary staff to introduce how they would like to be addressed from the outset, whilst also allowing a diversity of gender identities to be normalised in organisational culture. Furthermore, the use of gender-neutral language in contracts, corporate documents and communications can prevent the privileging of one gender above another, which can also help further the cause of gender equality in the workplace.
To receive further insight and best practice from expert speakers on advancing LGBT inclusion in your workplace, join us for our ‘Pride in Diversity: Supporting LGBT Colleagues in the Workplace’ event, taking place online on 16th September. Visit the event page here.
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