The people, our workers, are the heart of our businesses. So, it’s important to foster safe and inclusive work environments for people of all backgrounds including those who are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ individuals experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This directly and negatively impacts LGBTQ+ individuals’ mental health. So, when talking about workplace mental health, we need to pay special attention to groups, like the LGBTQ+ community, to actively work against this treatment to create psychologically safe spaces for all individuals. So here we are going to talk about supporting LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.
Facts About LGBTQ+ Workers
The LGBTQ+ community has higher rates of unemployment, with rates spiking even higher for trans and nonbinary people. But unemployment is not the only issue. A U.K. report, one of the first of its kind, found that 7 in 10 LGBTQ+ people have been sexually harassed at work and two-thirds did not report it to their employer. The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy found 15% to 43% of gay and transgender workers faced some sort of workplace discrimination in the U.S. Though it is important to note that the experience of discrimination and harassment is not consistent across the queer community:
LGBTQ+ people of colour are more than twice as likely to experience discrimination in the workplace as their white peers.
LGBTQ+ women experience sexual harassment at higher rates than men.
90% of transgender workers have experienced harassment or mistreatment at work.
Many organizations have come to understand the experiences that LGBTQ+ individuals face in the workplace and have created specific policies to be more inclusive. Some of these include; healthcare coverage for same-sex spouses, protocols for gender transition, and paid parental leave for same-sex couples and adoptive parents.
Inclusive Workspaces – Supporting LGBTQ+ People in the Workplace
Though creating inclusive workplace policies is a great first step, it is just that – a first step. Workplace policies are not enough on their own to create safe and inclusive workplace environments and culture. So, what can companies and colleagues do to create a safe and inviting workplace for members of the LGBTQ+ community?
This should also include company training/workshops as well as providing information to new hires as well as new managers/leaders.
Make sure company policies are up to date and use inclusive language.
Create hiring initiatives that encourage LGBTQ+ applicants, whenever possible.
Have peer support networks for mental health, such as mental health ambassadors, and ensure all workers know how to get support for mental health at work. It’s also important to create a culture where individuals feel able to seek out that support.
Don’t make assumptions. Most people unconsciously make the assumption that others are similar to them. This means that heterosexual cis-gender people will automatically think the same of their co-workers which puts LGBTQ+ individuals in the awkward position of correcting others. So, do not assume someone’s gender or pronouns based on how they present themselves and do not assume the gender of anyone’s partner.
Lead by example. Like introducing yourself with your name and pronouns, this can help reduce the instances of people making assumptions about gender and pronouns, as well as make transgender and non-binary people feel less uncomfortable when telling people their pronouns.
Take action when discrimination or harassment does occur. Remind others that making jokes at the expense of someone in the LGBTQ+ community is not accepted and will not be tolerated. Even using a phrase like “that’s so gay” is not acceptable and this type of behaviour should be called out.
Remember that inclusive businesses, with a satisfied workforce, is a more successful business.
Supporting LGBTQ+ Co-workers
Oftentimes when we find out a co-worker is part of the LGBTQ+ community, we want to show our support but don’t know the best way to do so. What are some, potentially well-meaning, things that shouldn’t be done in the workplace when it comes to LGBTQ+ co-workers?
Don’t ask a bunch of questions. Many questions are well-meaning but can be hurtful, make people feel uncomfortable, and they often require a significant amount of emotional energy for the person being asked. There are also many instances where the workplace is not an appropriate setting for these questions.
Don’t out someone at work. Just because they have told you how they identify, does not mean they are out to everyone in the workplace. They likely came out to you because they trust you – so maintain that trust.
Don’t play matchmaker. When well-meaning straight people try to set someone up, it is typically simply based on the fact that they happen to know someone else is gay (or however they identify). This not only ignores the many other factors that go into dating but in most cases makes people uncomfortable.
Supporting LGBTQ+ people in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging. Start with good intentions on fostering an inclusive space, educate yourself on the LGBTQ+ community and the issues they face in the workplace and do want you can to create that safe space. Ensure policies are updated and followed, lead by example and train and workers within your organization.