Nicole realized her boss was treating her differently than others. She was constantly degraded for not knowing her job, even though she was brand new. She raised this issue with a few coworkers, and they said, “Well, let's just say, you're not the first person of your sexual orientation to be treated like this.” Three other gay people had left the company because of this man’s discrimination. He was allowed to get away with this because he was tight with the chief operating officer.
When Nicole left the company, she gave HR several examples of the discrimination. They had previously investigated and concluded there was no evidence. Nicole thought, “how are you so blind to this? When I told HR I couldn’t work for a company that is okay with this, the HR person told me they were going to restructure so I would no longer have to report to that boss. But it wasn’t enough. I just couldn’t do it.”
This true story happens all the time through microaggressions or full-on discrimination. In my 20s, I had a calendar on my wall showing two dads and their son at a Pride parade. One of the engineers saw it and actually walked down the hall to get his boss to show it to him. They blatantly walked into my office, pointed at the image, and started laughing. I was floored and told them to leave.
This month organizations everywhere have been marketing their support of LBGTQIA+ people…well, except for Bud Light! But have these Pride-celebrating organizations truly created welcoming cultures?
Creating welcoming cultures also saves lives, whether it’s in the home, school, workplace, or media. According to the Trevor Project, suicide is the leading cause of death among queer young people, but having one accepting adult in their life decreases that risk of suicide by 40%. In 2022, GLAAD found that 70% of LGBTQIA+ Americans said discrimination toward the community had increased within the last two years. GLAAD also found that 54% of trans and nonbinary people don’t feel safe walking in their neighborhoods.
Here are simple measures your organization should put into place RIGHT NOW to create a welcoming environment:
1. Foster an inclusive culture that embraces diversity and inclusivity. Establish policies and practices that explicitly protect LGBTQIA+ employees from discrimination, harassment, and prejudice. Ensure that these policies are well communicated, available, and enforced consistently. Encourage open dialogue, respect for differences, and a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination. Zero tolerance means no more bosses like Nicole’s, and no more making fun of Pride photos.
2. Educate and train employees with comprehensive diversity programs that cover LGBTQIA+ issues. Educate employees on LGBTQIA+ terminology, identities, and challenges. Promote understanding, empathy, and allyship among all employees. Focus on debunking stereotypes, addressing biases, and fostering an inclusive, respectful work environment.
3. Create LGBTQIA+ employee resource groups or affinity networks to provide a safe space to connect, support one another, and share experiences. These groups can serve as a valuable resource by offering insights, recommendations, and initiatives to improve inclusion.
4. Review workplace policies and benefits to ensure inclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals. Do you offer gender-neutral restrooms, recognize same-sex partnerships in benefits, and cover gender transition healthcare? You should also use inclusive language in all company policies and communications to demonstrate support and respect for all.
5. Celebrate LGBTQIA+ awareness events such as Pride Month, International Transgender Day of Visibility, and National Coming Out Day. Organize activities to raise awareness and show solidarity. Encourage employees to participate and contribute their ideas and experiences.
6. Implement gender identity and expression guidelines that respect and affirm gender identity and expression. Ensure that employees can use their chosen names and pronouns without fear of discrimination. Provide resources and support for employees undergoing gender transition or exploring gender identity. Train managers and supervisors to handle these situations with sensitivity and respect.
7. Promote LGBTQIA+ role models and allies by featuring their stories, accomplishments, and contributions in communications. This representation helps create a sense of belonging, encourages LGBTQIA+ employees to be their authentic selves, and fosters a positive work environment for everyone.
8. Seek feedback and continuously improve. Seek feedback from LGBTQIA+ employees to understand their experiences, needs, and concerns. Conduct anonymous surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one discussions to gather insights. Actively listen, take feedback seriously, and implement necessary changes to address any issues.
Creating a welcoming environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals requires a proactive and ongoing commitment to inclusivity. Fortunately Nicole found a job at a new company, Toast, that does just that. You can listen to her story here or on your favorite podcast platform.
Embracing and celebrating LGBTQIA+ employees not only enhances their well-being and job satisfaction, but it also contributes to a more productive and harmonious workplace for everyone.
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