During June, many employers speak up in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Oftentimes, companies with good intentions end up tokenizing—when an entity only makes symbolic efforts that give the appearance of supporting underrepresented groups without truly supporting those values—or stereotyping their employees. This once-a-year display of support falls short of showing true organizational alignment with LGBTQIA+ individuals they employ and the wider community.
To combat this, organizations can consider policies and procedures that are authentic, intentional and provide a work environment that allows their employees to feel safe, heard and seen, every single day.
Research from the Williams Institute finds that benefits come from the adoption of LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies in the workplace, from the individual to the organizational level. Some of these benefits include:
- Decreased discrimination and increased openness in the workplace,
- Improved health and wellbeing
- Higher team morale and productivity
- Reduced employee turnover
Per Deloitte, companies with LGBTQIA+ supportive policies experienced 2.7% higher average employee productivity and 25% higher average profitability than those without LGBTQIA+ supportive approaches.
Extending company support for LGBTQIA+ employees beyond pride month and championing inclusivity year-round through a show of support signals to team members that your company supports LGBTQIA+ employees, clients and community members.
Below is a list of suggestions that employers can implement to create and sustain an inclusive work environment for their staff and engage with staff who identify as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Applying these changes creates a better work environment for all employees and can have a profound impact on a company’s growth.
Respect other people’s preferred pronouns
Preferred gender pronouns are the pronouns—he, she, they—that a person would like to be referred to as. Preferred pronouns are linked to gender identity—where a person identifies in terms of gender roles, whether that be male, female, both or neither. This identity may differ from their gender expression, which is how a person publicly expresses or presents their gender. For example, a person who identifies as a male can express themselves in a way that is perceived as more feminine and use whatever pronouns they choose.
Understanding and respecting an individual’s gender identity expression is a simple way to show solidarity with the community. It is crucial never to assume another person’s pronouns; it is always good to ask what their pronouns are when you meet them for the first time. Pronoun acknowledgment can be represented by adding preferred pronouns to email signatures and on name tags at events and other digital platforms where employees communicate.
Asking questions of your LGBTQIA+ identifying co-workers and expecting them to lead the charge and answer on behalf of all community members can be exhausting for them. The LGBTQIA+ community is incredibly diverse, and employees’ experiences vary from one another. Additionally, many community members have faced trauma and discrimination, which can make answering personal questions a more daunting task. Education should start with employers and HR leaders, who should do the initial research and ask LGBTQIA+ employees if they would like to volunteer their time to help build understanding. Many organizations provide informational resources or diversity trainings, asking for these educational resources can help employees become better allies and advocates.
Adjust your diversity, equity and inclusion policies to include the LGBTQIA+ community
Company policies are a unique opportunity that HR and other leaders can use to shape how a company’s values align with the LGBTQIA+ community. Employers should conduct a top to bottom audit to find and replace gendered language used across external and internal collateral. Eliminating gendered language in dress code policies, parental leave policies and removing the “s/he” mentions in job descriptions can signal a more inclusive work environment and attract more diverse and talented candidates to the company. Company policies must protect all sexual orientations and gender identities while promoting inclusivity.
Establish and invest in employee resource groups and health benefits
Creating an Employee Resource Group (ERG) helps employees who need guidance on navigating workplace issues, interactions or any problem that they might not be sure how to address. ERGs are voluntary and employee-led. They are a network of employees that share similar characteristics. ERGs provide a safe place for employees to speak at work, where they don’t feel like they will face repercussions for their thoughts or feelings around an issue that may be personal to them. Knowing they have an established support system makes it much easier for employees to be their authentic self at work.
Health benefits are another resource that is very important for LGBTQIA+ employees. Those within the community, specifically trans people, often face discrimination and many difficult obstacles within the healthcare system. Whether it’s finding insurance coverage for gender-affirming surgery or an affirming LGBTQIA+ therapist or doctor, queer and trans people need extra support and resources that are not always available in health plan tools such as provider directories or navigation teams. Providing these benefits can significantly increase a company’s unique positioning on diversity and inclusion standards.
Support LGBTQIA+ organizations
Showing support for the LGBTQIA+ community should extend outside of the workplace. Giving monetarily to local and national LGBTQIA+ organizations helps to actively uplift the community. Organizations can also show support through who they partner with, or which partners they amplify.
It is essential to audit your company’s partners and any individuals or organizations you support to make sure they align with your values. A 2021 report featured in The Guardian revealed that several companies who claimed to be pro-LGBTQIA+ were supporting politicians who are introducing anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation.
Gather input, evaluate and improve
This is not an exhaustive list of options. It is essential to survey current staff to get a clear picture of how you can actively support them. Before any changes are made, there should be a plan and strategy in place. Leadership should empower their employees to propel this initiative forward. Collecting input from the employees that the policies will affect is critical to their success. Gathering this information can help HR identify and solve trends and gaps in the hiring process and policy formation. These changes will take time, effort and empathy, and won’t happen overnight. By creating an inclusive strategy, your company will be well on its way to creating sustainable change.