As it’s National Coming Out Day, we wanted to discuss an important topic that’s relevant to all businesses in all sectors: the inclusion of and attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. It should go without saying that everyone should be treated equally, but with a quarter of lesbian, gay and bi workers still feeling like they can’t be open to colleagues about their sexuality, it’s something that all employers could do more to address.
When people feel like they can’t be themselves at work for fear of discrimination or bullying, they are likely to feel restricted and unable to progress their careers and contribute as effectively to the organisation as they otherwise could. While the welfare of employees is undoubtedly of primary concern, from a purely ‘business’ perspective, such an environment and its harmful psychological effects can severely impact staff morale, which in turn can lead to increased absenteeism, depleted productivity and retention difficulties.
Further statistics bring home the gravity of the current situation and requirement for action. One in five lesbian, gay and bi employees have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service users because of their sexual orientation in the last five years. And nearly half of trans people that are not living permanently in their preferred gender role say that they’re prevented from doing so because they fear it might threaten their employment status.
What can we do?
A sense of diversity and inclusiveness must come from above and filter through all aspects of the business. It’s leaders and managers that must set the tone, fostering and maintaining an environment of open, effective communication and creating clear channels for feedback. Laying any topic on the table and discussing it openly from the outset, rather than sweeping it under the carpet, is likely to be beneficial – and this couldn’t be truer when it comes to discrimination.
The best way to assess how happy your employees are is to ask them. Issue anonymous employee engagement surveys, including questions pertaining to how included they feel in light of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and consider collecting this data at regular intervals to monitor improvement. Depending on the size of your business, you could also encourage the creation of a committee or resource group to organise diversity-related events and activities and ensure that the needs and concerns of LGBTQ+ people are being addressed. A mentor/mentee programme may also be appropriate.
Tips for promoting an inclusive environment
- Don’t assume everyone is heterosexual
- Never reveal a LGBTQ+ person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without permission
- In training or information sessions, include examples of situations that are relevant to LGBTQ+ people
- If significant days or events are marked for other employees, annual Pride celebrations should be also be highlighted
- Acknowledge the relationships of staff equally by ensuring that anniversaries, births and marriages/civil partnerships are celebrated in the same way
- Use the more inclusive and non-gender-specific term ‘partners’ when inviting employees’ other halves to social activities.