In order to create a thriving business, it is important that employers create an environment where staff feel confident to be themselves at work. And yet, for LGBTQ+ staff up and down the country, the workplace can be, at best, uncomfortable to exist in and, at worst, actively hostile towards them.
According to the 2018 LGBT in Britain Work Report conducted by Stonewall, more than a third of LGBT staff have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination — a fear that is realised in the tangible realities of bullying, being outed at work without their consent, and offensive language being used by both staff and customers. For LGBTQ+ people of colour, trans people and disabled people, the likelihood of discrimination in the workplace is significantly higher.
The result is that LGBTQ+ staff have higher levels of poor mental health and businesses that are not LGBTQ+ inclusive see a high turnover of staff, lower levels of productivity and, ultimately, miss out on a pool of exceptionally talented LGBTQ+ people who would prefer to work somewhere they are supported.
Perhaps you think that your workplace is already supportive of your LGBTQ+ staff and, whilst this might be the case, there are always ways to improve the situation. Oftentimes, safeguarding and uplifting LGBTQ+ people stops at what we in the community would consider the bare minimum: calling people by the correct pronouns, for example, or not outing people without their consent. Organisations need to wake up to the fact that their work supporting LGBTQ+ people is not done; it has just started.
Regardless of the sector, size or starting point of your organisation right now, you can make steps to change this situation.
Beware the gender binary.
There are so many things in workplaces, particularly more traditional workplaces which are gendered: from uniform to toilets. Many organisations do not realise that for transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming (GNC) and intersex people, the enforcement of binary gender systems (i.e. male and female) creates barriers which can prevent folks from being comfortable and confident or else bar them from the workplace entirely. Another simple, overlooked aspect is adding pronouns to email sign-offs and having pronoun badges at events; creating a culture where it is normal to give and ask for pronouns prevents assumptions being made about people’s gender.
Create a clear strategy and tactics.
Wanting to build a more inclusive culture is a good start for an organisation, but developing strategy around what you want to achieve and how you are going to get there is crucial in order to create tangible outcomes for your staff, as well as allowing you the ability to adapt your tactics if change is not seen.
Do not over-rely on LGBTQ+ staff to do all the work.
It can be difficult, especially when LGBTQ+ issues are new and unfamiliar territory for your organisation, to not over-rely on your LGBTQ+ staff to educate and organise for you. Oftentimes, the intention is to centre the experiences of LGBTQ+ employees and this is fantastic and wholly necessary. The issue of over-reliance occurs when it is solely the LGBTQ+ staff who are left to effect changes, organise events or address issues within the company in isolation, burdening them with even more work which can be personally and professionally exhausting. Striking the balance between cantering marginalised people experiences and not demanding labour from them is tricky and requires trust, communication and supervision to ensure things are running smoothly.
Understand your staff.
Understanding your staff is key in order to address any needs they may have. This may include consulting your employees more formally to gain insight into what an inclusive workplace looks like to them. Monitoring your employees through things like supervisions also helps you keep you aware of any staff who may require extra support.
Create policies which are inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.
Ensuring that your policies including pensions, health insurance, relocation allowances and family and leave policies explicitly mention LGBTQ+ people. Many policies were developed without consideration of LGBTQ+ folks and this leaves your employees vulnerable to discrimination — not out of intentional malice but out of neglecting to include them.
Learn about LGBTQ+ history and current issues.
Most of us did not learn about LGBTQ+ history at school. The reason for that is simple: in the UK, until 2003 it was illegal to talk about LGBTQ+ people. As a result, very few people not already within the community know about our history and the issues currently facing the community. Take it upon yourself to learn about our history, learn about how Pride started as an anti-police protest led by trans women of colour, how the gender binary did not exist globally until colonisers violently enforced it, and how, right now, LGBTQ+ people are facing violence and persecution on every continent.
If it feels like a lot or it feels too heavy to get into, then realise that this is what your LGBTQ+ staff are carrying on their shoulders; realise we need allies to be vocal, we need advocates, we need allies and we need workplaces that understand our struggles in the context of the wider environment for LGBTQ+ people.
Changing the world is not rocket science; sometimes it is a cup of tea and a biscuit and making sure a LGBTQ+ staff member is being supported. Maybe you create gender neutral bathrooms for your offices. Perhaps you start putting pronouns in your email sign-offs. No change is too small and building an inclusive work environment will create happier staff, boost productivity and make your business far more likely to succeed.
Link to report at Stonewall: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/resources/lgbt-britain-work-report-2018
Also some useful resources are collated here: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/power-inclusive-workplaces