It’s not enough to just pinkwash your logo, install rainbow painted benches or sponsor a parade float during Pride Month.
If you’re serious about recruiting and retaining LGBTQ2+ employees and their allies, you need to do some heavy lifting year-round.
Job one is transforming your workplace into a safe space where everyone feels welcome and free to be themselves. “The world is not a safe place when you don’t fit into a certain box,” says Michael Bach, CEO of CCDI Consulting and author Alphabet Soup: The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion at Work.
“This concept is difficult to understand if you are in the majority. Most women who have been sexualized or objectified, or who have otherwise been the target of sexism, understand it. Most people of colour understand it, having experienced subtle or overt acts of racism. Most people with disabilities understand it, having been forced to navigate a world that is designed for the able-bodied. And most LGBTQ2+ people understand it, because even if they have never personally experienced violence or discrimination because of their sexual or gender diversity, they’ve certainly witnessed it.”
Bach says most LGBTQ2+ people won’t come out at work until they know they’re in a safe space. “If you don’t give them that signal, they’ll quietly keep their heads down and stay in their closet – and they won’t be as engaged or productive.” They’ll also be gone from your organization if there’s another employer that’s offering an inclusive and welcoming workplace.
So how do you create a safe space at work? Start with human resources. Are your policies and procedures inclusive or are some people being inadvertently or deliberately excluded? For example, do you have a maternity leave policy or a parental leave policy? Do your policies talk about husband and wife rather than partner or spouse? Do you, like the Ontario Public Service Pride Network, run a Positive Space Champions program? Do you have gender-inclusive restrooms? Do you have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment and discrimination and is it enforced? “The first time you don’t, you completely devalue the policy and no one will ever believe you again.”
Do you offer optional one-and-done training or is the education mandatory and ongoing, especially for leaders and employees who are fence sitters, foes and fighters of change? “There is not only a woeful lack of education about LGBTQ2+ inclusion, but also a real problem with (1) how the education is being executed and (2) how the education is perceived,” says Bach.
Building an inclusive safe space at work requires a committed and sustained effort. Know that you’ll lose whatever trust, loyalty and goodwill you’ve built up by making even a single and small contribution to a politician or group that traffics in homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.
“You cannot have it both ways. You don’t get to be advocates of LGBTQ2+ inclusion and then donate to candidates who are actively working against that. If you’re an organization that has ‘values’ or a corporate credo, you must decide how important those values are to you. Unwavering support means you draw a line in the sand and donate only to candidates who are aligned with those values.”
You’ll not only lose LGBTQ2+ employees and customers. You’ll also lose their allies. Lots of us believe that everyone – our family, friends, coworkers and even perfect strangers – deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
Given what’s happening south of the border and the hate that’s metastasizing on social media, we need to become far more active and educated allies at work and in our community. “An active ally is more than willing to use their privilege (usually as a straight cis person) to ensure that the space is inclusive of LGBTQ2 people, even when they’re not in the room. What is needed is for you to lend your voice and support to the cause; to yield to members of the communities; to advocate when it is required. Do not monopolize or patronize. Don’t feel the need to be the leader. Be part of something bigger.”
And if you happen to write business book reviews for your local newspaper, maybe you can do better than waiting 23 years before finally reviewing a book about LGBTQ2+ inclusion at work.
Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.