There is a long history of inequality, oppression and violence towards LGBTQ+ people. Today, there are policies and legislation designed to give people equal opportunities, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, in reality, LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination and exclusion in the workplace and wider society.
Most people don’t intend to be disrespectful or discriminative. They usually don’t fully understand the diverse representations of sex, gender and sexual orientation and therefore don’t realise the impact their words and actions can have.
By actively becoming more aware of the correct terminology and learning how to be respectful, we can help break down stigmas, prejudices and biases. It also allows us to build more equal, diverse and inclusive workplaces, where everyone feels safe and empowered.
The best employers understand why all their employees should feel welcome, respected and represented at work. They know that inclusion drives better individual and business outcomes. They believe that staff must be able to bring their whole selves to work. Therefore when LGBTQ+ employees feel free to be themselves, everybody benefits.
Stonewall's report, ‘LGBT In Britain – Work Report’ (2018) based on YouGov research with 3,213 LGBT employees reveals the experiences of LGBT people in the workplace.
- 35% of LGBT staff have hidden that they are LGBT at work, for fear of discrimination.
- 10% of black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year.
- Almost 38% of bi people aren’t out to anyone at work.
Therefore, despite visible corporate support, today’s workplace is falling short of full inclusion.
Risks of Coming Out At Work
Most LGBTQ+ people navigate a similarly delicate path around disclosure. For those who can “pass” as heterosexual or cisgender, coming out can often mean choosing between paying a psychological price for the relative safety of invisibility, and paying a potential social and economic price for being open about one's identity. For others, especially those who are gender nonconforming, being closeted at work isn’t an option. This can have significant detrimental effects. People who are perceived as falling outside of conventional gender norms are at higher risk of career-disrupting workplace harassment and discrimination.
However, coming out at work can have huge benefits. LGBTQ+ people who are more open about their identity have increased physical and emotional wellbeing. In the workplace, research has found that increased authenticity around sexual orientation reduces psychological stress.
Yet these benefits hinge on having a supportive professional environment.
Ultimately, the greatest predictor of LGBTQ+ employees’ wellbeing is the creation of supportive workplaces through employer policies against discrimination, allyship and the advocacy of LGBTQ+ people themselves. Inclusive work environments help queer employees thrive and create more open and innovative workplaces, enabling people to free their potential.
Companies often claim they don’t need LGBTQ-specific policies as they don’t have ‘observably’ LGBTQ employees. However, it’s likely that these employees simply don’t feel comfortable coming out. They are there – they just haven’t shown their real face.
Employers can take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach by creating an inclusion plan, which includes specific gender and sexuality policies and protections for employees.
10 Ways Companies Can Support Their LBGTQ+ Employees
Over the last decade, organisations in all sectors have made huge strides in supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and creating an inclusive workplace.
Below are 10 steps suggested by Glassdoor, for employee engagement, that a company can take to help further this support.
1. Develop a Clear Mission for Supporting LGBTQ+ in the Workplace
Communicate a clear mission to all of your employees, including managers and senior staff, through education and diversity training about your inclusion policies and strategies for supporting LGBTQ+ employees.
2. Take LGBTQ+ Discrimination Seriously
Establish a strong anti-discrimination policy in your recruitment and promotion practices and be sure all employees know what is not tolerated in the workplace. In cases of homophobic bullying, promptly recognise the problem and take action.
3. Develop Support Programmes for LGBTQ+ Employees
Mentoring, employee networking groups, seminars and conferences all go a long way in becoming a more inclusive place to work for LGBTQ+ employees. You can also support employees with measures such as climate surveys, LGBTQ+ competency trainings and employee resource groups.
4. Promote Allies of LGBTQ+ People
Drive initiatives to promote the allies of LGBTQ+ employees who can act as support networks to LGBTQ+ employees and help champion the message that diversity is part of your organisation's mission.
5. Get Support from Senior Staff
Gain the support from the very top and promote senior staff champions who can help implement diversity initiatives, mentor junior LGBTQ+ colleagues, and act as sponsors of employee network groups.
6. Support the Local LGBTQ+ Community
Show you support the local LGBTQ+ community by providing information to employees about local events and groups, sponsor a Pride Party, celebrate National Coming Out Day, encourage volunteering at LGBTQ+ events like Pride Month and invite speakers to share their experiences.
7. Offer LGBT-Friendly Benefits
Benefits packages and non-discrimination clauses are some of the most important considerations for job seekers, yet can unintentionally exclude LGBTQ+ families and transgender individuals. Offer equal benefits to all employees regardless of their sexual orientation, including parental leave, adoption leave and time off to take care of dependants.
Make your benefits inclusive of all employees by being conscious of what words you use in your coverage and favouring gender-neutral terms.
8. Foster a Gender-Neutral Environment
Create a gender-neutral environment by making bold changes such as establishing unisex toilets and using gender-neutral language, like 'partner' instead of husband or wife.
9. Keep Track of Success
Celebrate your successes and monitor your progress by tracking things such as number of employee grievances, completion rates of diversity training, LGBTQ+ hires and promotions and how many new employees have come out.
10. Support Transgender Employees
As transgender visibility within the LGBTQ+ community has increased over the past few years, it has become clear that transgender people face a unique set of experiences and challenges. Learn what steps to take after an employee comes out as transgender to create a supportive and encouraging environment.
HR is an important player in assisting transitioning employees. Training the HR team to be educated allies so they are prepared to adequately support transgender employee can help in this situation.