How employers can better support their LGBTQ+ employees
Author: Sean Renshaw: Senior Product Associate at Moorepay
Being out at work means I don’t have to keep secrets. I don’t have to censor everything I say, I can be honest, open up and share my life with my colleagues.
But not everyone feels like they can be out in the workplace. Which is why employers must step-up and play a really important role, creating a secure environment for their LGBTQ+ community.
If employers haven’t started working towards this yet, it’s high time to get it onto the business agenda.
Here are some things I think employers can do to better support their LGBTQ+ employees.
Set up an LGBTQ+ employee forum
We need a safe place we can go to at work. Somewhere that connects us with our allies – be that the LGBTQ+ community at work, or colleagues who we can be confident will support us.
A forum might be set up on your company intranet, or as a chat thread in Teams. It might have a council that pushes the LGBTQ+ agenda, organises events and ensures regular communications to the group and the wider business.
This kind of forum can do a few things for us. First up, it gives LGBTQ+ people greater visibility in an organisation. Who are we? What do we think needs to happen to develop a more inclusive culture? Without a forum, how can employers access this kind of information?
A forum helps demonstrate the organisation is committed to diversity and inclusion (D&I). It can also advance their inclusion efforts if the council can share feedback and ideas to senior leadership.
As well, forum group meetings can break down barriers and heighten compassion and understanding between LGBTQ+ people and their colleagues. They also give us clarity on who we can safely approach in the workplace.
Finally – and most importantly – a forum like this is a place we can go if we experience discrimination and need a listening ear, advice, or support. Challenging discrimination is not easy, but with the backing of a trusted ally or an entire forum of supporters, it can make it less daunting.
There needs to be a mechanism that allows people to report problems anonymously. Not everyone wants their sexuality known at work, but they may still need a workplace issue looking into.
Without the protection of anonymity, LGBTQ+ employees who are experiencing discrimination may not feel comfortable raising it. Instances of discrimination that occur unknown will slowly but surely erode the company culture and hamper D&I efforts.
Educate all employees
I’ve faced homophobia in the workplace, and honestly, I think it was due to an individual’s ignorance as opposed to a dislike of gay people. This is where employers can help by educating their employees. Explain to them what terminology is appropriate and what it’s not OK to say.
It’s also important to educate your employees about supporting the trans community. How will you approach pronouns?
You should also educate everyone about discrimination. What is discrimination? What are the consequences when someone is found to be discriminatory? Are you confident your employees can articulate this?
Remember, it’s not just those who don’t identify as LGBTQ+ who need to understand your discrimination policies clearly. Sometimes, people in minority groups struggle to face the uncomfortable truth that they’re being discriminated against, so they push it aside and ignore it. It’s critical you help them understand exactly what discrimination is, so they can raise it if it happens.
Communicate the support
There are lots of organisations out there that will support LGBTQ+ people. Stonewall for instance, provides free help and advice, as do the LGBT Foundation, and Mind Out. Promote this information to your employees. If you provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), this will undoubtedly include services that support LGBTQ+ people. Communicate this on your company intranet, make sure the contact details are easy to find.
I feel we’re fairly lucky in the UK, particularly considering there are still countries in the world where being guy is punishable by death. But there is still much to be done.
The workplace is not a haven for the LGBTQ+ community – we continue to face ignorance and discrimination. But employers have a responsibility to protect us and make sure we can be honest about who we are when we come to work, and with that, they can make a real difference.