10 Ways To Make Your Business LGBT+ Inclusive

Alex de Vries

Nov 21, 2018

Is your business LGBT+ inclusive? Our resident LGBT+ representative has some tips to ensure that you are heading in the right direction.

LGBT+ inclusiveness is becoming increasingly important in the contemporary workplace. As we become more aware of the needs of LGBT+ people, we can begin generating strategies to support LGBT+ staff members to achieve their greatest potential. Never forget that your human resources are your most valuable assets, so ensuring all your staff are supported and safe allows them to flourish and improves their productivity and enjoyment of their job. In the changing face of workplaces in New Zealand, putting LGBT+ inclusiveness into the fabric of your business requires a cultural refresh, an exploration of new perspectives and a compassionate celebration of difference. Here are 10 ways you can make your workplace LGBT+ inclusive. 

1. Establish protections from discrimination through policy

LGBT+ rights are human rights – all people are born free and equal with the right to be free from discrimination. It is important for you to show your staff that you genuinely care about their rights by enforcing strong anti-discrimination policies. Having strong anti-discrimination policy requires safe channels through which distressed staff can voice their grievances, as well as a clear line of action to discipline and re-educate problematic staff. The LGBT+ community has been fighting for a long time to be treated with the same respect and dignity as the rest of society, and only in very recent history have Western societies begun affording equal rights to LGBT+ individuals. It has only been 30 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in New Zealand, and while many strides towards progress have been made since, there are still parts of the community who feel vulnerable to discrimination due to their relative invisibility in the grand scheme of things. As such, it is your responsibility as an employer to ensure that your staff feel safe at work, recognising that LGBT+ individuals are particularly sensitive to language, judgment and labels. Your human resources are your best and most profitable resources. Having strong anti-discrimination policy develops trust between employer and employee which is grounded in the experience of feeling valued and respected by peers and superiors, and not made to feel ashamed of the differences that they did not choose for themselves.

2. Create a supportive LGBT+ network for your staff members

LGBT+ people are quickly running out of special spaces in New Zealand, and as such they have begun to lose the very spaces where they could naturally encounter others within the community who share a similar life experience in a way that is healthy and constructive. As an employer, you have the unique capacity to create spaces for LGBT+ staff members by forming networking groups within your company and between companies where LGBT+ staff members can come together, build friendships, grow to support one another, have a sense of belonging and grow together. By putting company resources behind this group, you are showing staff that your business is focussed on fostering a thriving community, particularly as LGBT+ people have an uncanny ability to support one another in a way that is different to the support they receive from people who cannot relate to their particular experience.

3. Provide diversity training to all staff

Understanding the value of diversity does not come naturally to everyone. Encountering difference can be a big hurdle for many people as it challenges their worldview. Their natural reaction may be to build walls and create division. Diversity training is an important part of helping people overcome this hurdle, and its benefits for your business do not only extend to the feeling of acceptance by the LGBT+ community, but to all minority groups within your business. Diversity training involves teaching the value of diverse perspectives and experiences in the generation of new ideas and initiatives, the value of collaboration and cooperation, as well as the inherent human rights we all have within Western societies. The goal here is to help staff recognise what is respectful workplace conduct and work towards supporting each other to reach an even greater potential. 

4. Review your hiring process to eliminate biases

Hiring processes are fraught with biases. It is not really your fault – we all have inherent biases that we have to be made consciously aware of. It is tricky to create unbiased hiring processes, but there is a lot that you can do in order to limit the influences your own biases have over the hiring process. This is incredibly important for recruiting people from the LGBT+ community. Often, hiring processes require people to tick a number of boxes rather than taking someone on for the gifts, talents and perspectives they might bring to your business. LGBT+ people are born to fit alternative categories – all their lives they have been made to feel terrible for not being able to tick boxes due to an identity they did not choose for themselves. It is important to acknowledge that LGBT+ people have been made to feel incredibly uncomfortable when undertaking everyday tasks and activities, and as such they may never have played team sport, taken up leadership positions or volunteered on programmes that they care about for fear of being judged by their peers or their society. Approaching the hiring process with an open and unbiased mind means approaching it with empathy for the applicant, and recognising potential displayed through non-conventional activities, pastimes, ambitions and interests.

5. Become an organisation of allies

LGBT+ people need allies to ensure that they are being supported effectively and celebrated for their differences, rather than being made to feel excluded. Allies are people who do not belong to the LGBT+ community but support the community wholeheartedly in its pursuit for equality. The LGBT+ community is incredibly inclusive, and being outside of this community does not make you ineligible to attend LGBT+ events or engage in LGBT+ discussions. In fact, LGBT+ people love being supported by allies as it gives them a sense of belonging in the world at large knowing that people are capable of seeing beyond their sexuality and gender identity to the heart of the person they are. Getting all staff members involved in Pride Week celebrations, rainbow flags included, is a great way to foster a sense of community and support.

6. Identify individual needs

The LGBT+ community is a diverse community that cannot be homogenised. Although the LGBT+ community bands together in their fight for equality, it is important to recognise that they represent a spectrum of lived experiences. As such, each individual has different needs, and it is important for employers to get to know staff and understand their unique needs in order to help them grow. Having a safe channel through which staff members can express their needs is incredibly important in helping employers serve their workers and help them perform to the best of their abilities.

7. Approach all staff members with compassion

Following on from the point above, it is important that as a leader, you set the example for the rest of your staff to follow. It is important to approach all staff members with compassion, helping staff to grow together in an environment of safety and trust. While there may be anti-discrimination policies in place, it is important to promote psychological acceptance and inclusion which comes through a cultural approach. Changing culture is a hard thing to do, but it starts with leadership. Cultural change is incremental, but little by little things will get better. People generally adopt the attitudes of their leader as a means of survival in the modern workplace, and when the leader is compassionate and values compassion amongst their staff, the rest of the team will follow suit.

8. Eliminate workplace uniforms and dress codes

Workplace uniforms and dress codes sound like an antiquated idea, but it seems to be lingering in many workplaces. This obviously becomes problematic where gender identity challenges the conventions that a work uniform or dress code enforces. Having rigid structures of professional expression may cause discomfort for people who do not fit gender binaries or for people who are transgender. LGBT+ people fear that they may be judged for the clothes that they wear because it may not conform to existing conventions. Many transgender people who are still closeted have internal conflicts regarding their outward appearance in conflict with their internal identity. It is important to be critical of why gendered uniforms or dress codes exist. It is important for employers to start considering the spectrum of experiences that exists and re-orient workplace policies to be more inclusive and less rigid in terms of personal and professional expression.

9. Create inclusive bathroom options

A hotly contested issue at the moment is that of gendered bathrooms and implications this has for LGBT+ people who do not conform to gender binaries or who are transgender. Having single-stall and gender-neutral bathrooms is already becoming the standard for many progressive companies, but this is not the case in New Zealand. Transgender people in particular are hyper-aware of being watched or judged for the bathroom that they use – this comes from years of tight gender regulation imposed on them by wider society. Offering a range of bathroom options shows your staff that you respect them and their gender identity and want to provide a space for them to feel comfortable, free from judgement. It is important to teach all staff about respect for gender identity – that a transgender male is in fact male, and that a transgender female is in fact female. Alongside this, respect for gender pronouns is equally important. You do not know someone’s gender pronouns until you ask them explicitly, and in the LGBT+ community it is polite to initially use ‘they/them’ until you can confirm which pronouns someone may prefer. 

10. Do not make assumptions

As aforementioned, the LGBT+ community is extremely diverse. The one thing all minority groups dislike above all else is stereotypes and their unique way of encouraging judgment. It is important to acknowledge that not all people within the LGBT+ community enjoy RuPaul’s Drag Race, wear makeup and are experts in fashion. The wide range of interests, passions and experiences is what makes the LGBT community so open and accepting – because there is an acceptance that everyone is glorious in their uniqueness. This also comes with assumptions about language. Just because some gay men, for example, call each other “sister,” this is not an invitation for you to adopt the same language. It is more polite to ask what you can and cannot say than to be called out for being insensitive after offending someone. And please, for the love of all things living on this earth, do not refer to anything as ‘gay’ as a replacement for ‘lame’ or ‘stupid.’ Equating queerness with something unpleasant is incredibly offensive. No matter how entrenched the term was in the vernacular of the past, accept that our language has evolved and the term should be avoided. 

Bonus tip – Be discrete

This may come as a surprise to many people who do not belong to the LGBT+ community, but discretion is incredibly important. Not everyone in the community is comfortable wearing their sexuality or gender identity on their sleeve for various reasons. If someone comes out to you, it means that they trust you with that information, and breaching this trust can have psychological impacts which you may not anticipate. Sexuality and gender identity is an integral part of someone’s identity, and the key factor in disclosing this intimate reality with a colleague is trust. Speculating on someone’s sexuality is also problematic, so do your best to take people as they are and recognise their inherent human value without allowing rumours and negative attitudes to circulate.

Ultimately, developing LGBT+ inclusiveness in your workplace requires a robust cultural refresh which comes from sound, compassionate leadership. Codifying anti-discrimination policies, being mindful of language, encouraging a sense of community and creating safe spaces are all part of developing a business that is friendly towards LGBT+ staff members. Beyond policies, psychological acceptance and inclusion is of paramount importance. By following these 10 tips, and the bonus tip, you are well on your way to becoming an LGBT+ friendly organisation.

About the author

Alex de Vries

Alex is an aspiring musician, writer and artist.

He's spent longer than expected as a uni student, having finished his Bachelor of Arts in 2016 and now doing his Masters degree, graduating in 2018.

An Auckland native, Alex has plenty of great experiences to share about living and studying in our biggest city to share with everyone.

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