Published by HRMblogs, on 15/05/2021
By Samantha McLaren (MarketSmiths)
Scroll through LinkedIn during Pride Month and you’ll likely see posts from LGBTQ+ employees discussing how thankful they are that their company has made them feel comfortable bringing their true selves to work. These stories are inspiring and heartwarming, but they don’t relate a universal experience.
New research from LinkedIn found that 31% of LGBTQ+ professionals in the United States have faced blatant discrimination or microaggressions at work. Among those aged between 18 and 34, 25% feel they’ve been intentionally passed over for career advancement opportunities because they are “out” in the workplace. Experiences like these provide some insight into why many LGBTQ+ professionals aren’t ready to come out at work, with 26% worrying they’d be treated differently and 47% fearing it would negatively impact a job search.
Some people argue that sexuality should be kept out of the workplace and that gender identity “isn’t that serious.” But the reality is that most people signal them on a daily basis without thinking twice about it — whether it’s the clothes they wear, a casual reference to their partner when discussing weekend plans, or family photos displayed on their desk. Gender and sexuality are integral parts of who we are, and feeling pressured to hide those parts of yourself can take an immense psychological toll. As a result, one in four LGBTQ+ employees has left a job because they didn’t feel comfortable or accepted in the workplace.
On the flip side, feeling like you can be yourself can completely transform your experience at work for the better. Of the LGBTQ+ professionals surveyed, 27% said it felt like a weight was lifted off their shoulders when they came out, and 25% said it has helped them build better relationships with their professional community. To help more people have this experience, here are some steps your company can take to support your LGBTQ+ employees during Pride Month — and all year round.
1. Make your stance clear — and back it up with meaningful action
Behavior often trickles down from the top. But many LGBTQ+ employees are not confident that their leadership team cares about building an inclusive workplace. In fact, 25% say they do not believe LGBTQ+ acceptance is important to their senior leaders.
Clearly and publicly communicating your company’s stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion is a good first step, letting both employees and the wider community know what you stand for. This is something that job candidates pay close attention to: 77% of LGBTQ+ professionals believe it’s important that a prospective employer expresses an outward commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ employees, so failing to mention this on your company’s website or LinkedIn Company Page could deter great talent from applying.
But words alone are not enough. Even among LGBTQ+ employees who believe diversity and equity are important to their senior leaders, 32% find this manifests more often through talk than action, noting that their companies haven’t made any material policy or cultural changes. The steps outlined below can help you demonstrate genuine commitment to change, and sharing regular updates about what you’re doing will let employees know that progress is being made.
2. Put strong policies in place to promote inclusion and equity
In some countries, including the United States, formal legislation exists to protect LGBTQ+ employees from termination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite this, many employees continue to face harassment, discrimination, and bullying from coworkers and managers that push them out the door.
If you haven’t reviewed your company’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies recently, now is the right time to dust them off and see if they’re as robust and transparent as they could be. More than half (57%) of LGBQT+ employees want their companies to have clear policies in place, so ensure that all workers know where they can find this information and what to do if they experience or witness a violation.
Highlighting whether reports can be filed anonymously can make a big difference, as employees may fear inadvertently outing themselves for flagging harassment they’ve experienced. It’s also important to communicate what happens after a report is filed, as this can help employees feel more in control of the situation, encouraging them to speak up.
3. Create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ employees to find community
Nearly a third (30%) of LGBTQ+ professionals believe their place of work lacks a sense of community and belonging. Part of that likely stems from finding it difficult to meet and engage with fellow LGBTQ+ employees, as well as allies.
Companies can combat this by creating more safe spaces for their LGBTQ+ team members. This could include establishing employee resource groups (ERGs) and formally recognizing important dates in the LGBTQ+ calendar, such as Pride Month and the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia [May 17]. These spaces can also serve the dual purpose of helping to educate other employees on LGBTQ+ issues, though that should not be their primary aim.
4. Give all employees the resources they need to practice allyship
Education can go a long way toward creating significant cultural change. In some instances, employees may be well intentioned but lack the knowledge to recognize when their words or actions are unintentionally making someone feel unwelcome. Companies can give their workforce the tools they need to be good allies by offering training and other resources designed to promote deeper understanding.
For example, 57% of LGBTQ+ professionals believe colleagues can support them by understanding and respecting their pronouns — so companies have an opportunity to provide resources around different pronouns, why they matter, and how to ask about them. This guide from workplace equality nonprofit Out & Equal provides a useful primer on pronouns, and we have a glossary of key gender identity terms to help your team expand its vocabulary. LinkedIn is also rolling out the option for members to add pronouns to their profiles, helping them express their authentic selves, allowing allies to show support, and normalizing the conversation around gender pronouns and identity at work.
Of course, one of the best ways to gain a more nuanced understanding of LGBTQ+ issues is to learn about the lived experiences of the community. But the onus can’t fall on LGBTQ+ employees to educate everyone else. Encourage your team to do the work to educate themselves first using the resources you’ve provided, while still providing a platform for LGBTQ+ employees to share their experiences, if or when they feel comfortable.
Create a culture where everyone can thrive
Today, nearly half (45%) of LGBTQ+ professionals wish their company did more to support the LGBTQ+ community. Stepping up and acknowledging that you need to do more — then following through with meaningful actions — can help you build a culture where employees are empowered to do their very best work. This can support your recruitment efforts, drive retention, and strengthen your company’s brand. But at the end of the day, creating a workplace where no one feels scared or belittled for being who they are is its own benefit.
(This article was originally published on LinkedIn.com)
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