10th February 2020
To celebrate LGBT History Month, we invite you to reflect on your work culture and policies around diversity and equality. Both crucial determinants when it comes to how healthy and happy a workforce is. Indeed, diversity on its own is not enough. There must be acceptance and inclusion for people to feel at ease at work, be healthy and happy. People must be allowed to be themselves - free of judgment and prejudice.
Despite the progress we have made as a country, we should not be blind to the fact that LGBT+ people continue to face barriers to full participation in public life. We want to build a country that works for everyone, and that means tackling these burning injustices.
So how can employers make their workplaces better for LGBT+ employees? How can they send out the right signals – and make sure they are doing more than just a box-ticking exercise?
Achieving diversity in the workplace is about ensuring the people who work within your organisation are representative of the wider society. Research has proven that diverse teams outperform homogenous teams if their diversity is overlaid with inclusion. Inclusion is what’s needed to give diversity real impact, and drive towards a world of work where all employees are empowered to thrive. And, whilst diversity and inclusion often go hand in hand, inclusion is fundamentally about individual experience and allowing everyone at work to contribute and feel a part of an organisation.
If you’re looking to make sure that LGBT+ people are fully included in your workplace, we’ve got some tips to help.
- Have a clear Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy
Hiring a diverse workforce doesn’t guarantee that every employee has the same experience or opportunities in the workplace. Without clarity on what inclusion means, taking targeted action in organisations is challenging. At its most basic level, complying with the UK legal framework and the Equality Act 2010 ensures that no one feels left out because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, race, belief, sexual orientation, or other factors. Employers should have robust equal opportunities and specific gender identity policies, differentiated from sexuality/sexual orientation. These should emphasise a supportive, flexible and tailored approach.
To get started, reflect on inclusion practice in your organisation using CIPD’s Inclusion health checker tool. More recommendations and action points for consideration in this CIPD report.
- Take harassment seriously
We know that LGBT+ people face discrimination and harassment at work. For example, 1 in 8 trans employees said they had been attacked by a colleague or customer at work.
At least 2 in 5 LGBT+ people said to have experienced an incident because they were LGBT, such as verbal harassment or physical violence, in the 12 months preceding the survey. However, more than 9 in 10 of the most serious incidents went unreported, often because respondents thought ‘it happens all the time’.
It’s important to investigate all complaints, not just because it’s the legal thing to do, but because it’s the moral thing to do. Although the law does not require employers to have a whistleblowing policy, the existence of such policy shows an employer’s commitment to listen to the concerns of workers and that it welcomes information being brought to the attention of management.
- Raising awareness through training.
Through training, leaders can change attitudes and foster a diverse and inclusive workplace based on principles of equality, health and wellbeing but unless senior managers in organisations are aware of equalities issues, it will be hard for an organisation as a whole to respond positively to the equalities agenda. D&I themes could also be built into other training – for example on technical issues – to make it feel more integrated to employee development.
The British Standard for Valuing People through Diversity & Inclusion is a code of practice for any organisation that wants to ensure that it treats all its people with dignity and equity. Focusing on every aspect of an employee’s association with an organisation – recruitment, retention, redeployment and retirement – the framework promotes a holistic view of what fairness and respect should look like. Completing an assessment by CfA will give you a valuable response to your position against the Standard and will enhance alignment with relevant D&I issues in your context.
- Diversity and Inclusion Champion
Simply put, this is a designated person within a business who is responsible for instilling a diverse and accepting workplace culture. Depending on factors such as business size, this may be a full time, paid role or it could be someone in your team who feels passionate about promoting diversity.
There are many things a Diversity Champion could do, here are some examples.
- Start open discussions about diversity in your workplace and gather important information about how safe and secure employees feel at work.
- Arrange events that help celebrate diversity, such as fun runs or bake sales with donations going to minority charities, and encourage staff to attend PRIDE events.
- Run awareness raising sessions for all employees on trans inclusion, along with guidance about using pronouns and facilities.
- Help with the reviewing of policies and workplace culture documents to ensure they speak for everyone in the business.
- Identify areas in which the business can improve its efforts to be more inclusive and help it adapt to ensure everyone has the facilities to be comfortable at work.
There are many charities that can offer business support on this matter, such Diversity Champions, the LGBT foundation and Stonewall.
- Use language carefully
Making LGBT+ people welcome in the workplace isn’t just about avoiding words or comments that might cause distress. When it comes to trans employees, respecting the pronouns (terms like “he” and “she”) that individuals prefer is really important, even if they’re non-binary (have a gender identity not exclusively masculine or feminine) because their use conveys respect. Employers should make sure that data systems don’t make mistakes with pronouns, titles or old names. In the recruitment process consider flexibility in terms of requirement for titles and genders on application forms. Ask for previous names sensitively. Avoid unnecessary use of gendered language: for instance by saying “people” instead of men and women. This also extends to things like signage around the workplace - including toilets (you might consider introducing gender neutral toilets). By taking small steps like these, you are on your way to providing a fully inclusive experience for your employees.
- Be flexible
Being a flexible employer brings great benefits the health and wellbeing of staff. It allows for a culture of trust and openness. By being flexible you can help employees from all walks of life to deal with difficulties that life tends to throw our way from time to time. For example, you may have a member of staff that is thinking about transitioning or may need some extra time out of the office to manage doctors’ appointments. The Trades Union Congress’s LGBT Equality at Work report suggests recommendations around how to develop a plan with a trans staff member to address some of the needs that might arise as an individual is going through transition (see page 29-30). Also check those two useful guides: Transgender employees good practice guide and How to support with employees who are undergoing gender reassignment.
Another example of how being flexible could make a difference, is through supporting staff living with HIV. In the UK HIV is recognised as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and people living with HIV are protected from discrimination. However, this does not mean that stigma and misinformation are still not prevalent. The HIV Stigma Index UK 2015 shows that stigma continues to affect the lives of people living with HIV in the UK. In fact, 1 in 5 had experienced verbal harassment or threats. There is also pressure at work from employers or co-workers to disclose (1 in 5) all conditions that can have a significant impact on someone’s overall health and wellbeing.
By having an inclusive culture, flexible working options, EDI champions, HR staff fully trained in how to support members of the LBGT+ community, and having programmes in place like and EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) you can help to ensure that your organisation is providing the best support for all employees to deal with work-life stressors, family issues, financial concerns, relationship problems, and even drug or legal concerns.
- Be ready to listen
For those who are not part of a minority group themselves, it’s impossible to anticipate and understand every problem people might face. This means that it’s vital to keep listening and seeking feedback. Organisations should make sure LGBT+ employees feel confident about raising any problems they may have, and about making suggestions if they think there are ways in which things can be done better. You might want to consider setting up a network group to help facilitate that feedback to improve systems and processes. Its also important to engage non-LGBT+ staff members to help raise awareness in your business.
Research show that LGBT+ people are 1½ times more likely to develop depression and anxiety compared to the rest of the population. A Mental Health First Aid training or Workplace Wellbeing and Mental Health Awareness workshop, which includes sessions on non-judgmental listening to help best support in times of need, should be suggested to all employees and made mandatory for managers.
Employer policies on supporting your employees should always be seen as a work in progress. Providing the right framework, policies and processes will help to create a culture where all staff feel more confident about their organisation’s approach to equality and diversity. It may help other employees to open up about issues of gender, sexuality, religion or ethnicity that they have not previously felt safe to share. When employees feel more secure about being themselves and are not worried by the need to keep secrets, their performance generally improves and workplace bullying decreases. Everybody in the organisation benefits.