How employers can make their workplace LGBT+ inclusive

In light of LGBT+ History month, Megan Cross explains why, now more than ever, businesses should take a closer look at their diversity and inclusion policies

This year, the LGBT+ History launch event took place online. As the pandemic continues, many are worried about how the isolation of working from home will impact belonging and inclusion work. It's critical that businesses don't take their foot off the accelerator and scale back plans designed to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace. 

Accenture's 2020 research showed that only 31 per cent of LGBT+ employees are fully open about their gender identity/ expression or sexual orientation at work and 57 per cent believe it has slowed their progress at work. Although we've seen significant progress over the years, it is clear that I&D progression isn't happening quickly enough and intervention is still required. 

To drive an inclusive culture for LGBT+ employees, change needs to be embedded at three different levels of the business: at the organisational-level; the team-level; and for the individual. It's crucial that any change initiatives are practical, tangible and applicable to employees' day-to-day workplace activities.

Companies need to consider how inclusive their policies are of their LGBT+ employees. This includes zero-tolerance on homophobic, transphobic and biphobic discrimination as well as developing policies to support employees who are transitioning. For example, many organisations are now supporting trans employees with the associated costs of counselling, surgery, and hormone treatment. 

Businesses can further support their employees by implementing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to provide a safe space and a sense of belonging to LGBT+ employees. ERGs can also raise the profiles of LGBT+ role models in the workplace to inspire others. 

However, it is also essential to include the majority when confronting challenges for the minority to truly drive progress. Organisations should provide intersectional and practical training on how to be an ally to LGBT+ colleagues. If these training and support sessions were previously in-person, it’s important HR teams and ERGs look at how these can continue virtually. It's crucial that employers don't simply copy old learning techniques into a digital format – I&D leaders need to ensure that they drive effectiveness and engagement in their digital strategy.

At the team-level, managers should be championing the learnings from diversity and inclusion training and translating the advice from allyship programmes into tangible action. Microaggressions and biases, such as assuming the gender of one's partner and/or using incorrect pronouns, should be challenged, and teams should be equipped to have conversations about allyship. This is particularly important during prolonged remote working while our personal lives are more visible than ever. Leadership exists at every level of the organisation and it is vital that inclusive behaviours are role modelled at the team-level.

As an individual, there are simple but powerful steps that can be taken to include LGBT+ colleagues. This can entail adding your pronouns (eg, 'She', 'He', 'They') to your email signature, attending events led by your LGBT+ ERG, even as an ally, or wearing your organisation's LGBT+ lanyards, if they are available, as a visual signpost of support and solidarity.

In these times of crisis, it is important businesses don’t forget about their vulnerable members of staff and take into account everyone’s personal circumstances, and how they might differ. The LGBT+ Foundation’s May 2020 report looked at how the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted LGBT+ communities and found that they “already face a wide range of health inequalities throughout their lives so will likely be disproportionately affected by the crisis”. 

The report also highlighted how older LGBT+ people, in particular, are more likely to be socially isolated. It stated: “Coupled with the fact LGBT+ people are less likely to have children or wider family social networks, this means that if someone falls ill they may have less of a support network upon which to rely.” 

We also need to consider that spaces, support and services have been disrupted due to the pandemic and many LGBT+ employees may not feel safe at home and/or are not able to be themselves if they are living with LGBT+-phobic family members.

The pandemic has been challenging for many reasons, however, it is not the time for businesses to forget about inclusion, but rather take an even closer look at how they’re supporting all employees.

Megan Cross is a diversity and inclusion consultant at Brook Graham from Pinsent Masons’ Vario