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29 June 2023

Supporting LGBT+ in the workplace

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To celebrate pride month and LGBT+ Pride Day (28 Jun 2023), Nathan Worton a friend of HRi tells us how he believes employers can support LGBT+ in the workplace.


What Are the Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion?

The arguments for increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace broadly fall into two categories.

The social justice perspective favours everyone being afforded equity of treatment and opportunity, and individuals should not face disadvantages based on characteristics they may hold. The Equality Act clearly defines these characteristics as ‘protected characteristics’ and seeks to ensure everyone and has equity of access to jobs, training and development and promotions in work and that they do not face a disadvantage as a result of a reason connected to their age, gender, reassignment, being married and that they do not face a disadvantage as a result of a reason connected to their age, gender reassignment, being married or in a civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, having a disability, their race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief or sex.

There is also a tangible economic and business case for organisations to improve their diversity and inclusion. There are direct benefits to businesses and the wider economy of being inclusive to the LGBT+ community. That is either as employees in well-paid jobs or for the communities they work in. For example, a positive relationship exists between LGBT+ inclusion and business performance. Deloitte’s “Why LGBT+ Inclusion is Key to Competitiveness” report found companies that are LGBT+ inclusive have better share price performance, higher return on equity. higher market valuations and stronger cash flows, and are better placed to benefit from the large, growing, global spending power of LGBT+ consumers.

Companies that are more diverse and inclusive are also better able to anticipate the needs of all customers, and to access a broader client base.

Similarly with an increasing understanding of the link between employee well-being and happiness at work. And the impact these experiences have on engagement and in turn the level of commitment and productivity levels of employees, having a diverse and inclusive workplace where individuals can be themselves and feel comfortable, accepted, and happy can only be a good thing for business performance.


What impact can the lack of an inclusive workplace have?

Consider further the impact on an LGBT+ person’s well-being. From having to hide a part of their identity and censor what they say so as not to give away hints of their identity as an LGBT+ person. Or hide their personal relationships and assume the identity of being in a heteronormative relationship. The energy, mental and emotional strain it puts on an individual can cause burnout as well as a host of mental health-related challenges.

As a queer person, I understand that sometimes it can be the person’s fear of being found out and what that could potentially mean for them. Especially when discrimination against LGBT+ people exists in the workplace for just being themselves. The introduction of the Protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation which was first introduced in the UK in 2003, and guidance on gender reassignment in 2010 have created a framework but it would be much better if organisations created their own inclusive culture in supporting individuals to bring their true selves to work without fear of discrimination or being treated less favourably.

More generally, LGBT+ individuals tend to experience higher levels of difficulties at work. The CIPD report “Inclusion at Work – perspectives on LGBT+ working lives” from 2021 found that LGBT+ employees experienced heightened workplace conflict, greater job dissatisfaction, lower psychological safety, and are more likely to report that work has a negative impact on their health. The findings show trans people encounter the most difficulties. The report emphasises the need for targeted improvements in trans policies and practices.


Supporting the LGBT+ Community

There are a host of things businesses can do to support the LGBT+ community in the workplace. The worry about doing or saying the wrong thing is a big fear for many businesses. Especially with the ongoing “culture wars” and backlash against businesses supporting the community in the past few months. Such businesses include Budlight, Target, Starbucks, and many more large consumer organisations. But authentic and steadfast support for the community should not be fair weather. It should be strategic, and it should fit in with the organisation’s shape, size, culture, and workforce.


What Can Businesses Do?

Here are some suggestions to what businesses can do to better support the LGBT+ community:

  • Consider joining a diversity champions programme, which will give business access to numerous benefits. These include tools and resources to make the workplace more inclusive. One example is Stonewall, but there will be others available.
  • Provide diversity and inclusion training to all staff and management to educate everyone about creating a truly diverse and inclusive culture, this should include LGBT+ issues and other protected characteristics.
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination against the LGBT+ community. This should spell out exactly what your organisation will accept and the kind of behaviour it expects.
  • Use your voice and platform to support the LGBT+ community. This could include attending local pride marches.
  • You want employees to feel safe speaking up. They need to know their concerns and experiences will be validated and taken seriously. Establish a clear procedure for handling discrimination complaints.
  • Consider promoting the use of inclusive language. Encourage the greeting of a room as “hello everyone” rather than “hello guys”. Or asking how someone’s “partner” is rather than assuming they have a husband or wife based upon heteronormative relationships.
  • Consider encouraging people to have their pronouns on name badges or on email signatures. This can encourage non-binary people to recognise they are in a safe space to share theirs.
  • Educate yourself and others. Genuine support for the diverse LGBTQ+ community requires a level of understanding and participation that you won’t get with a hands-off approach. Consider hiring LGBT+ guest speakers to participate in team meetings to speak on specific topics.
  • Have LGBT+ advisory groups if the business is big enough for one. Or consider the use of LGBT+ champions who can use their voice to role model and advise the business that may improve inclusion.
  • Consider being a charity sponsor for a local LGBT+ charity or supporting with resources that the business may be able to.
  • Celebrate pride month with some education pieces. Go out as a team to a local drag show, decorate the office and have some fun with it!


Adapt as needed

There’s no official roadmap for becoming an LGBTQ+ affirming business. It’s possible you’ll make some mistakes along the way. After all, none of us are immune to subconscious bias. Be open to constructive criticism so you can become a better ally, supporting the LGBTQ+ community in ways they want and need.

Put another way, be willing to de-centre yourself and listen to LGBTQ+ people. Remember people will rarely get upset or offended if you are coming from a place of curiosity and a desire to support.


Author: Nathan Worton | Apprentice People professional and LGBT+ advisory board Severn Trent

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The relationship between LGBT inclusion and economic development: Macro-level evidence – ScienceDirect
Stonewall London Workplace Conference 2023 | Stonewall
Suki Sandhu shares advice for diversity and inclusion at work (