How to support LGBT+ employees during Covid

To mark the start of LGBT History Month, Laura Mayes explains how businesses can put inclusion at the heart of remote working

It’s no revelation to say that Covid-19 has completely changed how all of us approach work – whether or not we’re working from home. Even as many of us have adjusted to the new normal, the pandemic rages on and you may feel like you don’t have the space to think about something like workplace inclusion.

However, the truth is that inclusion has never been more important, particularly for LGBT+ employees, who are at a disproportionate risk of workplace discrimination. Stonewall’s research highlights that one in five (18 per cent) LGBT+ staff have experienced discrimination at work – with a third of trans people (33 per cent) being the target of negative comments and bullying from colleagues. 

Meanwhile, black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT+ people are at even greater risk of abuse and three times more likely to experience job loss compared to white LGBT+ staff. These sobering statistics spotlight the fears that many in the LGBT+ community experience simply by going to work.

Even though more of us are working from home, that doesn’t mean the challenges facing LGBT+ people at work have magically disappeared. In many cases, they’ve actually intensified. Inclusion cannot be left on the back burner right now. So what can HR professionals do to ensure their companies are supporting their LGBT+ employees?

Working from a hostile home

During the pandemic, many LGBT+ people have been forced to spend more time at home. For some, this may be a place where they feel unsafe and unable to be themselves. Staff who were out at work might not be open about their sexuality or gender identity at home and want to keep this quiet. We know this is particularly relevant for black, Asian and minority ethnic employees, who are less likely to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity around family. So it’s important HR professionals are mindful of different people’s personal circumstances and how topics like relationships or past social events may no longer be appropriate to discuss on Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Equally, many people may be out at home but not at work, so extra care must be taken to ensure that employees feel comfortable with their home-working situation. Showing that your organisation supports and welcomes LGBT+ colleagues can be vital to those who may be under added pressures to be out at work. Doing things like celebrating LGBT+ History Month or getting involved in a virtual pride can make LGBT+ staff feel valued and supported.

The added pressure and stress caused by lockdown restrictions means it’s crucial everyone has supportive spaces at work. Do you have this kind of space for LGBT+ staff, like an employee network? Such networks can be a powerful safe space for employees to find each other and discuss what they are going through.

You can also signpost staff to useful LGBT-inclusive services that can offer additional support. We know that so many are facing unprecedented challenges while working from home, but reaching out to all employees to ensure they’re feeling safe and supported will be a huge relief to many.

Combatting online discrimination

Stonewall research shows that almost one in five LGBT+ staff have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they're LGBT+. Being at home doesn’t mean this kind of abuse and discrimination stops. In fact, with more people communicating through private messaging networks, it may have gotten worse and be harder for managers or HR professionals to stop.

So it’s crucial to have comprehensive anti-discrimination policies and safeguards around remote working, and LGBT+ inclusivity training is a great way to start. You can continue to host inclusivity and diversity training sessions online. These can often be held a few times a week and recorded to make sure that shift workers, and those without constant IT access, can still benefit.

Managing mental health at work

LGBT+ people are more likely to experience poor mental health, and the pandemic will likely have made this worse. Take some time to review your mental health policies and check they meet the needs of LGBT+ employees who may be struggling. Making sure your workforce has access to inclusive counsellors and mental health first aiders, and LGBT-inclusive EAP practitioners, can go a long way towards supporting all employees who are facing difficulties in these trying times. Engaging with LGBT+ networks can also help HR and senior staff understand the issues that employees are facing and how you can support them.

A wider perspective

The pandemic has made us all think about our welfare and wellbeing in new and important ways. But it’s vital that this comes with an understanding that staff who come from marginalised backgrounds often need tailored support. 

Taking steps to make sure every LGBT+ employee feels welcome and valued isn’t just the right thing to do, it can help your business thrive. When staff feel empowered to be themselves, they bring new ideas to the table and spur innovation. So, as workplaces continue to adapt and change during this third lockdown, make sure you are putting inclusivity at the forefront of your thinking.

Laura Mayes is director of people and development at Stonewall