How to Create an Inclusive Environment for LGBTQ+ Employees

Christa Feazell
12 Oct

For once, something good happened in 2020! The Supreme Court ruled this year that gender identity and sexuality are both protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

This landmark decision was an unexpected win for the LGBT community, who have fought for years to guarantee employment protections for members of the LGBT community. Roughly 4.5% of the US population identifies as LGBT, factoring out to 11 million LGBT people total. 88% of the LGBT community is employed, and a third of LGBT employees are racial and ethnic minorities. The community itself is massive and incredibly diverse. 

Unfortunately, many LGBT candidates still report high levels of discrimination in the hiring process and office. One in four LGBT employees are not “out” at work and report substantial barriers to advancement, especially for those who are also persons of color. Despite what some may think, creating a safe and inclusive workplace environment for your LGBT employees is simple. 

The key is to stress acceptance, support, and equal treatment of all workers regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Here are some sure-fire ways to create an inclusive environment for your openly LGBT employees.

What’s in a Name? Respect.

LGBTQ, pride, LGBT pride

Recently, increased awareness of transgender members of the community has led to a wider discussion surrounding the relationship between gender and sex. Simply put, someone is transgender when they feel that their gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Many trans people experience a psychological phenomenon known as gender dysphoria where the perceived mismatch between the person’s sex and gender causes significant distress, depression, and anxiety. 

Scientists and medical experts recommend transitioning as the main treatment for gender dysphoria. Each trans person is different, so confer with your employee on their specific needs. Some trans people are happy without medical or hormonal transitions, and prefer to simply dress and present as their gender. Other trans employees may opt for hormone therapy, surgery, and vocal training and may need time off to address specific medical concerns. Keep an open line of communication with your employee and be supportive. 

If someone in your workplace is transitioning or has transitioned, the simplest way to respect them is to use their preferred pronouns and name. 

Names have a special meaning for everyone, but they are even more important to trans people. Their new name represents a new identity that is true to who they are. Referring to a trans person by their dead name, or the name they were given at birth, is incredibly disrespectful and hurtful, as is being intentionally misgendered with the incorrect pronouns. 

This should never be tolerated in the workplace, as this behavior would not occur if the employee were not trans. If a new employee introduced themselves as “Bill” no supervisor or colleague would insist on calling them by their “legal name” of William simply because that was “what appeared on their birth certificate.” So, why tolerate the same treatment towards trans employees? Using the correct name and pronounce takes very little effort and shows basic respect towards your trans colleagues. 

Always refer to a trans person by their preferred pronouns and name. And if you slip up, don’t make a big deal out of it! Apologize, correct yourself, and move on — your trans colleagues will thank you for it. 

Use Inclusive Language

People often alienate LGBT employees without thinking by sheer virtue of their language. For example, a company-wide email may begin with the innocent phrase “Dear ladies and gentlemen,” alienates any nonbinary or genderfluid employees you may have, as there are many people who feel they do not fit into either category of “lady” or “gentlemen.” 

Consider using gender-neutral pronouns and terms when possible. That company-wide email can just as easily begin with “To the employees of Company,” or even a simple “Hello everyone!” Practice using the singular “they” in instances where an individual’s gender is unclear instead of using he/she. Use the term “partner” or “spouse” in place of husband or wife, and normalize its usage throughout the office. Consider encouraging employees to share their preferred pronouns in their email signature. 

Using inclusive language in company communications is an easy way to show your LGBT employees that they are included and valued.

Remove Bad Actors

Almost every single LGBT person has experienced discrimination at the workplace. In order to create a truly diverse and inclusive environment, LGBT employees should feel safe and accepted by their colleagues. If an employee reports discrimination of any kind, whether it be persistent misgendering, jokes at the expensive of their gender or sexuality, or rude comments, employers need to quickly act to reprimand and remove bad actors. 

If persistent misgendering, dead-naming, and discrimination are tolerated, you are not creating a safe or inclusive environment for LGBT employees. Establish a company policy of taking immediate action when an employee reports discrimination from their peers or superiors. LGBT employees should not be forced to work with or interact with clients, partners, or peers who actively attack a core part of their identity. Consider providing education and anti-discrimination training from outside LGBT experts and consultants.

Celebrate Differences

The spectrum of human gender identity and sexual orientation is incredibly varied. No two LGBT employees will be exactly the same, because no two LGBT people are the exact same! 

Rather than ignoring the differences between your LGBT workers and your other staff, celebrate them! Incorporate a pride day into your company celebrations, sponsor a float in your local Pride parade, and highlight LGBTQ organizations and resources. 

Creating an inclusive environment for all of your employees requires a bit of sensitivity, understanding, and a willingness to listen to the needs of your staff. Members of the LGBTQ community are in every industry at every seniority level, whether they’re out or not. Foster an environment of positivity and inclusion and perhaps, one day, employees won’t feel the need to hide their identity at work. 

The Do’s and Don'ts of LGBTQ+ Recruiting

Learn how to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ candidates by downloading Joonko’s infographic, The Do’s and Don’ts of LGBTQ+ Recruiting or our webinar on Creating Workplaces That Support LGBT Professionals.  

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