Written by: Emily Young // Jun 2, 2020
Last updated: Jun 2, 2020
If you want to be a true ally to LGBTQ+ colleagues, we can help you go beyond rainbow Zoom backgrounds, Pride parade attendance, and sparkly Taylor Swift anthems. Supporting team members of all gender identities and sexual orientations means taking active steps towards a more diverse and inclusive work environment. From strategic recruitment efforts to workplace training, here are a few simple ways to ensure LGBTQ+ diversity in your workplace.
Learn What LGBTQ+ Means
LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning. The plus sign represents “everything on the gender and sexuality spectrum that letters and words can’t yet describe.” Let people tell you how they identify rather than labeling them yourself. Everyone has a different way to express their identity (for example, some people embrace the term “queer,” and others do not).
Educate Yourself About the LGBTQ+ Employee Experience
Begin by educating yourself about the LGBTQ+ employee experience. For employees of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, the workplace carries unique risks. According to a Glassdoor survey cited by CNBC, “47 percent of all LGBTQ respondents believe that being out at work could hurt their career, including losing a job, not getting a promotion or not getting selected for a project.”
The risks go beyond lost career opportunities. Coming out at work can endanger an employee’s safety. When “physical and sexual violence on the job are common occurrences” for transgender employees, it’s no wonder that so many hide their identities.
To learn more, we recommend you read this report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) about what life is like for LGBTQ+ employees. Then start strategizing how you can make a difference.
Understand How to Communicate the Benefits of Diversity
Obviously, you want to embrace diversity in your workplace — you’re reading this article, after all. But to get buy-in from corporate leadership, you need to know how to communicate the bottom-line benefits. Here are two reasons why fostering diversity and inclusivity is a smart business decision.
Inclusive Companies Build Consumer Loyalty
“The world is trending towards inclusion,” and that includes “acceptance of LGBTQ people,” explained Cristina Yelvington, coordinator of LGBTQ+ Initiatives at USF’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. When consumers choose where to spend their money, they pick businesses that align with their values. “They’re going to vote with their dollar for companies who donate money to LGBTQ organizations and charities, who have nondiscrimination policies for all their employees, who provide health insurance for same sex partners of their employees, whose health insurance includes trans-inclusive health care,” Yelvington said. “Those are all important considerations, not only for the employees, but for the consumers.”
Diverse Teams Improve Employee Outcomes
Research shows that diverse teams are more profitable. They’re also smarter. As this article in the Harvard Business Review explains, “Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance.”
An inclusive environment also improves employee retention: “1 in 4 LGBTQ workers have stayed in a job primarily because the environment was very accepting of LGBTQ people,” according to the HRC survey mentioned previously.
Commit to Recruiting LGBTQ+ Employees
A diverse team doesn’t happen by magic: You must commit to recruitment goals.
Build a Positive Reputation
Your company should “publicly and proudly espouse pro-LGBTQ, pro-inclusion policies and attitudes,” Yelvington explained.
Make sure you have a clear nondiscrimination policy that covers gender identity/expression and sexual orientation. (You can explore sample nondiscrimination policies for a health care organization here.)
Post Job Listings in LGBTQ+ Publications and Sites
If you have a job opening, place ads in publications or websites that have strong LGBTQ+ readership, Yelvington said. Certain job placement sites also focus on LGBTQ+ applicants. The Human Rights Campaign recommends:
If you post on general job sites such as Glassdoor, make sure your ad welcomes applicants of all gender identities and orientations.
Attend LGBTQ+ Career Fairs and Community Events
Attend LGBTQ+ job fairs, or reach out to your local university and find out how you can support their initiatives. For example, USF’s Office of Multicultural Affairs welcomes organizations to participate in events dedicated to LGBTQ+ student success.
If you’re attending a general career fair, signal your support by displaying a pride flag. “The LGBTQ student in the room is going to go up to your booth,” Yelvington said.
Make the Interview Process Welcoming
When interviewing applicants, keep these tips in mind:
- Make sure application forms include write-in options that go beyond the binary male/female.
- Check your unconscious bias. “One important consideration to make is dress code,” Yelvington said. “So if a woman walks in (wearing) a suit, for instance, is there going to be a prejudice against that woman because she's not dressing in the way that you consider appropriate for a job interview?”
- Introduce yourself with both your name and the pronouns you use. (Examples of pronouns people use include she/her, he/him, or they/them.) “It signals to the interviewee that this is a place that values diversity and values respect for other people,” Yelvington said.
Create an Inclusive Work Culture
From their first day on the job, employees should step into a culture that is affirming and inclusive.
What Does an Inclusive Workplace Look Like?
Yelvington listed policy and environment as the “two main considerations for having an LGBTQ-friendly workplace.”
Let’s look at some examples within these categories.
- Health care: Do employees of all genders and sexual orientations receive “access to the same level of health care?” Yelvington said. That includes health care benefits for transgender employees.
- Benefits: Do benefits extend to same-sex partners?
- Social events: For holiday parties, are spouses “invited regardless of what their gender is?” Yelvington said.
- Workplace culture: “What kinds of jokes are allowed at the water cooler?” Yelvington said.
- Promotion process: How are employees promoted? Are expectations of behavior heavily gendered? For example, in some companies, women are punished for behaving in a “bossy” way, whereas men are rewarded for behaving aggressively. This shouldn’t be the case. “What’s rewarded in the promotion process should be the same regardless of the gender of the person who’s exhibiting that behavior,” said Yelvington.
- Dress code: Is it gender-neutral? Does it accommodate employees who may be gender-noncomforming?
- Language: Do employees understand how to use inclusive language and how to intervene if they hear someone speaking in a hurtful way?
- Facilities: Does your workplace offer all-gender bathrooms (i.e., not segregated by gender)?
To ensure an inclusive culture, training is essential. “Good training provides a base level of knowledge,” Yelvington said. Participants should learn what the acronym LGBTQ+ means and how people in this community “might be treated differently than their straight or cisgender counterparts.” Equipped with this understanding, employees should begin to develop the skills for ally-ship. Role play exercises are helpful, because they allow participants to practice these skills in a safe classroom environment, Yelvington said.
After employees undergo training, the next step is to make sure lessons are reinforced by supervisors. “Employers should deal with discrimination head on and should not hesitate to discipline employees who fail to treat their LGBTQ coworkers with mutual respect,” says this Forbes article. “If employees witness others being treated poorly and no punitive action is taken by organizational leaders, this may allow others to think this behavior is acceptable.”
Create an Employee Resource Group
Support LGBTQ+ initiatives by creating an employee resource group (ERG). The ERG can start by evaluating the workplace environment. “You have to take a pulse of what the place is like, and then you can begin to find solutions, but you can’t find solutions if you don't know what the problems are,” Yelvington said.
As the ERG works to create a more inclusive workplace, the Human Rights Campaign suggests the following goals:
- Improve company policies.
- Create a mentorship program.
- Ask leaders to “publicly endorse LGBTQ-inclusive legislation.”
- Pursue recruitment opportunities for LGBTQ employees.
Support LGBTQ+ Organizations
To be a true ally, your organization must support the needs of your LGBTQ+ employees and their community beyond the workplace.
“Having a float at Pride is great, but is ultimately just an opportunity for you to advertise,” Yelvington said. “If you want to help the community, that visibility is not enough. You need to give either time or resources to people who need it.”
If you’d like to support an LGBTQ+ organization (local or national), the Tampa Bay Times recommends the following:
- Metro Inclusive Health
- Equality Florida
- Pete Pride
- Come Out St. Pete
- Empath Partners in Care
- Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
- LGBTQ Welcome Center
- Campaign for Southern Equality
- Funders for LGBT Issues
- Human Rights Campaign
We’re Here to Help
At USF, we’re committed to creating an inclusive community through our Office of Multicultural Affairs and our Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity (DIEO). To find out more about the professional development opportunities offered through USF, contact us through our website, or give us a call at 813-974-0950.
If you are reading this post because you want to improve your workplace as an HR professional, you may be interested in our human resources management certificate.