How to support the LGBT+ community in the workplace

Inclusive policies, engaging with the community and using the correct pronouns are three ways to help support and empower LGBT+ employees and colleagues
by Bethan Rees


June marks pride month, which celebrates the LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, plus spectrums of sexuality and gender) community. To mark the occasion, we are looking at how the workplace can help support the community.

The Supreme Court in the US made a landmark decision on 15 June 2020, providing gay and transgender people more protection in the workplace. Now, employers who fire workers for being gay or transgender are violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, there is still more to be done globally. According to the 2018 LGBT in Britain – work report by charity Stonewall, “despite some employers in the UK making progress towards inclusion in their workplaces, LGBT people still face discrimination, exclusion and barriers at work”. Some key findings of the report highlight why it’s so important to support and empower the community in the workplace:

  • 18% of LGBT employees have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the past year because they’re LGBT.
  • 12% have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the past year because of being trans, while 10% of Asian and minority ethnic LGBT staff have been physically attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
  • 35% of LGBT employees have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT at work in the past year because they were afraid of discrimination.

Here are just three ways you can support LGBT+ colleagues and employees.

Ensure policies are inclusive

In a post for Stonewall, George Alabaster, digital officer, says that inclusive workplace policies should include pensions, family and leave policies, health insurance and relocation allowances, and should “explicitly mention LGBT people”.

An additional step would be to create a diversity and inclusion policy, outlining “what the company intends to do to challenge outdated stereotypes and promote equal opportunities for LGBT and other minority workers,” writes Paul Holcroft, associate director of operations at business consultancy Croner, in an article for Accountancy Daily. “By taking this action, a company can help to encourage its current workers not to feel segregated in their roles while also promoting itself to potential external candidates … A visible policy could also enable the organisation to take part in local networking or ‘pride’ events, which would help to facilitate further exposure to the community,” he reports.

Engaging with the LGBT+ community

A January 2017 report by professional services company Accenture and Stonewall identifies initiatives that help to transform organisational environments and make them inclusive.

In the foreword, the executive sponsor of Accenture’s UK and Ireland LGBT Network, Patrick Rowe, writes: “Initially, our efforts focused on establishing a foundation to support our open LGBT colleagues with an employee network, inclusive policies and role models. However, latterly we realised this was only the first step to achieve our aim and that we could only truly support our LGBT colleagues by engaging the majority through a culture shift.” In the conclusion of the report, it states that it has engaged the whole workforce, not just LGBT employees, through “individual accountability of core values, outward-facing allies, creative communications and intersectional training”.

Alabaster echoes this point in the Stonewall article. He writes: “Allies, as we call them, are a crucial element of ensuring inclusion for all. They can help spread the message that diversity is celebrated by your organisation.

In an article for European CEO, Ben Farmer, UK senior HR manager at Amazon, writes: “No matter how diverse and forward-thinking, organisations and individuals may still have blind spots to sensitive issues that mean even well-meaning interactions can come across as negative, prejudiced or downright rude. For this reason, taking the time to engage with the community is invaluable. That means taking the time to listen, learn and educate others. Sometimes it means challenging regressive views head-on.”

Respecting pronouns

Correctly using someone’s gender pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them, for example) is a simple way of showing your respect for someone’s gender identity. 

An Insider article by Gabby Landsverk suggests that if you are unsure of someone’s pronouns, you should ask. “You can help normalise using correct pronouns in the workplace by introducing yourself with your pronouns when meeting new people,” she writes. “Similarly, if someone is talking about a significant other, partner, or ex, don’t assume that person’s gender, either. For example, a married female colleague could have either a husband or a wife, and it might be jarring for them if you incorrectly assume which.”

Farmer explains that Amazon has recently made the change to add preferred pronouns on its personal internal directory page. “If they choose to do so, any employee can display their preferred pronouns. I’ve been encouraged by the number of senior leaders in the UK demonstrating support by doing so themselves.”

Landsverk adds that if you’re a cisgender person – people whose gender identity matches their birth sex ­– adding your pronouns in your email signature or a work bio could help your LGBT+ colleagues “feel safe about being themselves at work”.

These are just a few ways a company and its employees can work towards empowering and supporting their LGBT+ peers. What else would you recommend? Leave your comments below.

Published: 26 Jun 2020
  • Community
  • Soft Skills
  • Career Development
  • Pride
  • LGBT+
  • diversity and inclusion

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