Being inclusive means more than just obeying the law. Failure to take positive action for LGBT people can harm a company’s workforce, its reputation and growth
The idea that LGBT inclusion is a non-issue, something that doesn’t need to be dealt with, is widespread within business. Many are the leaders who stick their heads in the sand, ignoring the matter altogether and consequently harming the trust, growth and reputation of their business.
Every day we hear of homophobic abuse in the workplace, cementing the mistrust in business support for LGBT people. This week Californian lesbian councillor Jovanka Beckles was called “filth” during a council meeting, only to be told she had herself to blame. Here in the UK, Lib Dem councillor Sam Phripp left his position after experiencing homophobic bullying from fellow politicians.
I wish we lived in a world where being L, G, B or T was a non-issue but unfortunately we’re not quite there yet, and until we are silence is the last thing we need. Positive action is required to combat these issues, not just from dedicated lobby groups but from employers.
Here are a few tips that can help achieve just that.
1. Basic human rights
Some things are obvious: don’t be ignorant, don’t be hateful, don’t discriminate and don’t simply tolerate; be inclusive and show respect. These rules apply to all humans and yet they seem to be forgotten all too often.
2. Send the message from the top: put diversity on the agenda
Being inclusive means more than just obeying the law, it means making clear diversity is encouraged and that differences are celebrated. Assuming people know your stance on LGBT matters isn’t enough, so make sure to eliminate any doubts regarding your support from the top.
3. Make a stand – even if you think you are the first to do so
Be brave. Being the first within a sector or community to stand up for equality can seem daunting but will pay off. Even if you believe no one is openly gay in your organisation, reassuring everyone that they would be accepted as part of the company is crucial to current and future workforces.
4. Recognise LGBTQAI: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and allies
Yes, there are lots of letters to bear in mind and you might not come across every colour of the rainbow flag in your company, but reading up on what they stand for, and recognising their importance to both you and your staff, is a basic step that you need to take.
5. Be sensitive to multiple discrimination
Gender, sexuality, physical ability, class and skin colour are all still factors that can hold people back; combine any two or more and a person is likely to face double discrimination at some point. A good leader recognises the multiple combinations of discrimination possible and makes sure none of these factors prevents an employee from advancing in the business.
6. Promote straight allies
Straight allies of LGBT people can be a powerful tool in the pursuit of inclusivity. A global support network of allies enables individuals to join in without actually coming out; this can be particularly useful in less inclusive countries.
7. Promote role models
Encourage senior LGBT people to come out and support emerging talent. The lack of out LGBT role models in business means that many begin their careers by reverting back into the closet.
8. Support the T in LGBT
The T stands for transgender and often has nothing to do with sexuality, yet surprisingly many think it does. Transgender people are a minority within a minority and all too often face invasive questions, rumours and discrimination, not to mention being overlooked in business. Support of transgender people is vital.
9. Challenge preconceptions
Relying on preconceptions for understanding can come across as being ignorant. Look beyond the stereotypes and see the person.
10. Influence society
Businesses have the power to shape society. Support local LGBT groups; consider volunteering and set up networking events; send the message that you care. As your company’s legacy spreads, so does a culture of acceptance.
11. Communicate inclusion
Gender neutral language can be helpful when you don’t know someone. Try not to ask your colleague if she has a boyfriend; ask about her partner and go even further by offering Mx as an alternative to Mr/Mrs/Ms. Know what’s offensive and challenge homophobic language everywhere.
13. Don’t be afraid to ask
But remember how much you appreciate questions about your genitals and sex life.
14. Support before travel
Remember that other countries may be less supportive of LGBT people. Bring this up with employees before sending them abroad and show them that you take their safety and wellbeing seriously. Don’t back down on values abroad and support diversity across your operations.
15. Money talks
Why did Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe wait so long to come out? Because he thought his sponsors would walk away. That, if anything, is a sign of business impact on LGBT visibility worldwide.
16. Respect the coming out process
Bear in mind that it can take a long time to build up the courage to come out, and that LGBT people don’t just do it once – they do it to almost every person they meet.
17. Revamp recruitment
Remove the cookie-cutter from your recruitment process. Stop placing people in boxes and appreciate their diversity.
18. The hands-on stuff
Ensure training outlines regulations and tackles homophobic bullying. Do consider offering adoption assistance and parental leave for both partners in addition to existing company policies. Include bereavement leave as well as transgender-specific medical coverage for all. Install gender-neutral toilets.
19. Follow it up
Track your progress and outline why it is important. You may not see results today but they will come, with time and with your support – and we thank you for it.
20. Essential reading
The Glass Closet by John Brown
This article was amended on Friday 8 August to clarify that Ian Thorpe came out as gay, not Michael Phelps.
This series on LGBT rights is funded by Capco. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.