Happy Pride Month—the sunniest, most colorful of months! ☀️ 🌈 🤗We’ve long been a fan of encouraging employees to bring their full selves to work, and celebrating it! This very much includes gender, sexuality, and other alternative lifestyles that don’t fit into our heteronormative worldview.
However, 20% of LGBTQ+ Americans have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when applying for jobs, which jumps up to 32% for LGBTQ+ folks who are people of color. Intersectionality matters, y’all.
So, how do workplaces move beyond performative allyship and rainbow-washing, and toward a culture of true inclusion? We’ve identified three key ways to help your LGTBQ+ employees feel safe and comfortable at work.
“Workplaces that go beyond inclusive policies to truly cultivate climates of inclusion are a win-win for employers—they mitigate the costs of [employees being in the] closet and capitalize on the focus and energy that comes from people bringing their full selves to work.”
–A Workplace Divided, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
Let’s get started!
1. Mind your language
First, let’s talk about interpersonal inclusion.
Interpersonal inclusion is generally what we think of when we think about inclusion in the workplace—it’s how employees interact, connect, and communicate with each other.
It’s also how workplace cultures are formed!
Think about your workplace culture habits: Do you chat about your weekends each Monday? Do you ask after each others’ significant others, or families? It’s just small talk, isn’t it?
Not always, for LGBTQ+ employees. A whopping 59% of non-LGBTQ employees believe it is “unprofessional” to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, leaving LGBTQ+ employees with the stressor of having to carefully navigate these conversations that straight or cisgender folks breeze through without a second thought.
Unsurprisingly, LGBTQ+ employees can feel wary about even mentioning a same-gender or nonbinary partner.
Of course, connecting with employees about topics outside of work is essential to building peer relationships, and the solution is not banning or avoiding these topics (we’ve seen, time and time again, that this does not help nor work as intended). Plus, you can't overstate the business value of definitively standing against discrimination:
"A March 2012 report by the Center for American Progress indicated that companies in the United States lose an estimated $64 billion annually as a result of having to replace employees who departed because of unfairness and discrimination; many of those individuals were members of the LGBTQ+ community."
–Creating a Trans-Inclusive Workplace, Harvard Business Review
So, here are a few conversation signals that can help LGBTQ+ employees feel safe talking about their personal lives:
- Not making heteronormative assumptions (i.e. if a woman mentions they’re married, don’t reference their “husband” if you’re not actually certain about their sexuality or gender!)
- Using neutral terms like partner, significant other, or spouse
- Avoiding a binary assumption of gender (i.e. instead of saying “Ladies and gentleman,” use neutral language like, “Hi, everyone.”)
- Communicate and normalize the usage of gender pronouns
- Understand and use inclusive vocabulary
These language cues can go a long way in signaling to your LGBTQ+ employees that your workplace is open and inclusive. Remember, it’s not the job of your LGBTQ+ employees to make everyone else feel comfortable. We must all do the work—and that includes actively adjusting your word usage, and apologizing when you mess up—to make workplaces more open and inclusive.
“Using gender-neutral and anti-ableist language isn’t about just being politically correct … It’s about allowing yourself to broaden your perspective. Language is powerful and doesn’t only affect the listener, but also the user. By taking the extra energy to be more mindful of the language we use, we’re training new circuits in our brains and becoming more aware of how certain language can create a more supportive work environment.”
–Sayume Romero, speech pathology student and LGBTQ activist
💡 Diversity and inclusion is a value-add for organizations. Download this fact sheet to see how!
2. Audit your policies
As HR professionals, we’re responsible for the engagement and wellbeing of all employees, and that includes their safety, security, and peace of mind.
Sounds like it’s a job for the employee handbook! 😄
It’s not enough to lean on the EEOC—did you know that it wasn’t until June 2020 that the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to fire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity? It was a landmark ruling, but it doesn’t touch on the many heteronormative or discriminatory policies that are probably still in your handbook!
Here’s a few questions to consider:
- Do you offer benefits to domestic partners and civil unions?
- Do you clearly outline what constitutes harassment and discrimination at your workplace, and do you explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity in your nondiscrimination policy?
- Are you using equitable language in your policies, like changing “maternity leave” to “parental leave”?
- Does your dress code reinforce gender stereotypes?
- Do your healthcare benefits cover transgender and mental health support?
- How do you support employees who are transitioning?
- Are your office amenities supportive of those who are non-binary or transitioning?
If you’re unsure about some or all of these questions, definitely check out Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index 2021 to see what other equitable and inclusive organizations across the country are doing to support their LGBTQ+ employees. Their Trans Toolkit for Employers is also incredibly informative as you set up your organization to be transgender-inclusive.
“71% of the Fortune 500 [...] offer transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage, up from 0 in 2002 and 22 times as many businesses as twelve years ago.”
–Corporate Equality Index 2021, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
As for healthcare benefits, reach out to your insurance broker to understand your most inclusive and low-cost options. Most insurance companies already have equitable healthcare benefits—it’s just a matter of opting in at minimal cost to the employer.
3. Educate yourself
One of the most valuable things you can do is to educate yourself about the burdens—and joy!—that LGBTQ+ people experience. Gaining a better understanding of these experiences helps you be a better ally, community member, HR professional, and human! Here are a few books and movies to help you get started, or continue your education:
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Tomorrow Will Be Different by Sarah McBride
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Love, Simon (2018)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
What is your organization doing to support your LGBTQ+ employees: Tell us in the comments below, or check out these additional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resources from Bonusly: