For too many LGBT employees, discrimination is a way of life. According to GLAAD, “more than 40% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and almost 90% of transgender people have experienced employment discrimination, harassment or mistreatment.”
Despite the progress made towards LGBT rights in many countries in recent years, most countries and U.S. states still don't provide legal protection for LGBT employees.
In this tutorial, we’ll look at what you can do to prevent LGBT discrimination and support LGBT equality in your own workplace. First, we’ll look at the benefits of an LGBT-friendly workplace, and then we’ll discuss ten ways of creating one. By the end, you’ll be ready to make your business a more inclusive, welcoming place for all employees.
Benefits of an LGBT-Friendly Workplace
So why should you make your workplace more inclusive? Let’s look at the business benefits first.
Studies have shown that openly gay employees are happier and more productive than those who are forced to hide their sexual orientation, and the productivity gains also extend to their coworkers.
Then there’s the fact that, according to Brandon Gaille, LGBT people have around $790 billion in purchasing power, and 23% of them have “switched products or services in the past year because a different company was supportive of the LGBT community.” Furthermore, 71% would stay loyal to a company that was LGBT friendly, even if purchasing that company’s products was less convenient or more costly.
So there’s a clear business opportunity here. Many of the benefits of diversity that we’ve already discussed in this series also apply to LGBT employees, so check out that article for more detail:
Also watch this video by the United Nations, which explains more about the wider societal cost of homophobia and other forms of LGBT discrimination:
On top of the business benefits, there’s also the fact that LGBT workplace discrimination has a real human cost. It leaves people feeling afraid to be who they are, wary of their coworkers, having to tolerate bullying or offensive jokes, and experiencing higher levels of stress and other detrimental effects on their physical and mental health.
Regardless of your personal beliefs, I’m sure you don’t want to contribute to such an appalling situation. So let’s look at some ways you can be part of the solution.
10 Steps to an LGBT-Friendly Workplace
Now that you know why you should create an LGBT-friendly workplace, let’s look at how you can go about doing it. In this section, we’ll look at ten steps employers can take to achieve LGBT equality in the workplace.
If you’re an employee rather than a business owner and aren't in a position to implement these changes yourself, consider them a roadmap for you to convince your managers to follow. You can discover more about advocating for LGBT rights within a company in this article:
1. Set and Enforce Policies
The first step to having an LGBT-friendly workplace is to set up specific policies that outline your company’s position on LGBT rights.
If you don’t have one of these policies, you’re behind the times. According to Catalyst, 91% of Fortune 500 companies now have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, and 83% include gender identity.
Find out more about putting policies together in this tutorial:
But having a policy isn’t enough on its own. You also need to make sure that you’re very clear about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour at your company, and establish procedures for dealing with people who violate your policies. Then you've got to follow through on those processes, making sure that any allegations of discrimination or harassment are taken very seriously.
Also, go through your company policies and make sure that you haven’t unwittingly excluded people with the language you use. You’ll also need to consider changing your employee benefits to accommodate LGBT employees and their families, which we’ll look at in more detail later on.
For more help, check out this downloadable model employer policy produced by the Transgender Law Center.
2. Change Your Hiring Strategies
If you've got LGBT-friendly policies, you’ve now set a baseline for welcoming LGBT employees. But what if your hiring practices are preventing people from joining in the first place?
Even if you haven’t been actively discriminating, you may have been giving the wrong message in your job ads or succumbing to unconscious bias in the recruitment process.
So go over the wording of your ads, perhaps running them through a tool like Textio, and ensure they send the right message. Also make an explicit mention of your commitment to equality and diversity, and talk about other company values or LGBT-friendly benefits that demonstrate that commitment.
Also reach out beyond your usual demographics, for example by partnering with LGBT employee networks and organisations in your area. Put in an appearance at LGBT recruitment events. And consider posting your job ads on job boards that focus on the LGBT community, such as Pink Jobs or the Transgender Job Bank.
Then make sure that the interview and selection processes are transparent and fair, with no room for bias. You can find out more about that here:
3. Provide Training
Getting people through the door is only half the battle. What kind of working environment will your new employees find when they arrive?
A 2018 survey found that around a quarter of American workers would be uncomfortable seeing an LGBT coworker’s wedding picture. And the same report found that 55% of LGBT Americans experienced discrimination in 2017, up from 44% the year before.
Discomfort doesn’t always lead to discrimination, but it’s clear that some employees will need training to ensure that they treat their coworkers with respect. So ensure that you provide diversity training to your staff that includes a module on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Remember that most people won’t actually sit down and read those long policies you drafted in section 1. Training can help to ensure that they understand what’s in those policies, why LGTB rights are important in your company, and what their responsibility is. Find out more in this article:
4. Support Events
Every year, there are events in countries around the world to celebrate and show support for the LGBT community.
Pride parades and festivals are the biggest and most well-known, but there are others such as Spirit Day, when millions of people take a stand against bullying and in support of LGBTQ youth.
By getting involved in these events, you’re demonstrating a commitment to LGBT rights and sending a clear message to your staff and to your customers about where you stand.
So what can you do? Get some ideas for next October’s Spirit Day in this tutorial:
And to see what events are coming up in your country and when they’re happening, check out this huge list of LGBT events around the world.
5. Create Networks
LGBT employee networks can be very powerful ways for workers to come together and share experiences. That can lead to positive changes in company policy, as well as opportunities for mentoring, networking, and career progression for individual employees.
So set one up in your company, or encourage employees to come together and create a network themselves. As well as a network for LGBT employees, you could also set up one for allies (heterosexual and cisgender people who support LGBT rights).
For example, consulting firm Accenture has employee resource groups in 44 countries and an Ally program with more than 36,000 members. Its Pride at Accenture page, with the bold heading “Be Your Authentic Self,” highlights the company’s policies and achievements and profiles some of its LGBT employees. It also mentions Accenture's own research showing that creating a culture of equality makes LGTB professionals 1.5 times more likely to advance to manager or above and 3 times more likely to advance to senior manager or above.
6. Extend Benefits
If your employee benefits don’t treat LGBT employees equally, then they should.
Make sure that the wording of benefits such as health insurance or life insurance never excludes same-sex partners and provides support for the medical needs of transgender people. If LGBT employees experience different tax treatment from other employees for their benefits, then compensate them for that. By doing these things, you can set yourself apart as a truly LGBT-friendly workplace.
For example, consulting firm EY offers benefits tailored to LGBT employees, such as “spousal equivalent domestic partner recognition, gender transition coverage, and tax gross-up on domestic partner benefits.”
Find out more about employee benefits in this tutorial:
7. Speak Up
The struggle for LGBT rights is still going on, and members of the business community can have a lot of influence on that struggle by speaking out. And, in the process, they can also support their own employees.
For example, Australia held a controversial vote on marriage equality in 2017, and even though the outcome was positive, the process involved a lot of fear, uncertainty and public scrutiny, which a study has now linked to “increased levels of depression, anxiety and stress” among gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
By taking a stand on issues like this, companies can not only influence events, but also help their employees. So keep your finger on the pulse of the issues that matter in the LGBT community, and speak up on those issues.
8. Partner With Experts
Even if you've got good intentions and consider yourself an ally, you may not know enough about the LGBT community to be able to devise programs and policies by yourself.
The good news is that there are plenty of others who do know, and you can rely on them. You can find plenty of LGBT professional organisations that can provide resources such as training, advice, help with crafting policies, and more.
Although this particular list is US-focused, you can find plenty of similar organisations in other countries too. And you can also invite individual experts to work with you as advisors, board members, etc.
Communication is at the heart of having an LGBT-friendly workplace. You need to find effective ways of communicating the firm's commitment to inclusiveness, and you also need to foster respectful communication among employees.
You can achieve this by embedding a commitment to LGBT equality in all your communications, from presentations and speeches to newsletters and personal conversations. Make sure that the examples and images you use are inclusive and don’t perpetuate stereotypes.
Also consider the language you use. Refer to useful resources like the GLAAD Media Reference Guide to ensure that you’re using accurate language that doesn’t cause offence. And check out these tutorials for more information:
- How to Add Diversity to Your PowerPoint PresentationsAndrew Blackman28 Jul 2021
- Guys and Girls: Does Your Language Exclude People?Rachel McCollin24 Nov 2015
- Small Business HR: How to Communicate With Employees BetterAndrew Blackman18 Feb 2023
10. Listen & Adapt
This is perhaps the most important point of all. The struggle for LGBT equality won’t be over for a long time yet, and your policies and practices need to change with the times.
If you look at companies that support LGBT rights, you’ll see that their programs are constantly evolving. If you want to be an effective ally, you’ll need to do the same.
The best way to do that is by listening to your LGBT employees. Find out what's important to them. What’s working and not working in terms of policies, training, communication, or interaction with coworkers? Are they happy with the employee benefits, or are there other benefits you could provide?
Your employees are the ones who are experiencing your company culture every day. They know best what’s working and what you need to adjust. So listen to them and change and update your policies as necessary.
As we’ve seen in this tutorial, workplaces aren't always as LGBT friendly as they should be. Discrimination is alive and well, and even if you don’t think it’s a problem at your company, you need to put measures in place to ensure that you’re providing a truly inclusive work environment for all your employees.
The good news is that many of the steps we’ve looked at aren't expensive or difficult to implement. Things like supporting events, tweaking your recruitment strategies and creating employee networks require some time and commitment, but they’re within the reach of any business, large or small.
So get started today. Pick just one of these ten items, and take action on it. When you’ve done that, move down the list and work on another. If you can complete all ten, you’ll have succeeded in creating a truly inclusive workplace.