How HR can support LGBTQ+ employees

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Nearly 1 in 5 Gen Z adults identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community – a significantly higher proportion than previous generations. As more and more Gen Zers enter the workplace, it’s more important than ever that HR experts are taking steps to support LGBTQ+ employees at work.

There’s still a long way to go to ensure the health and happiness of LGBTQ+ workers. Research by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2019 found that 21% of LGBTQ+ respondents felt discriminated against in the workplace, a slight increase from 19% in 2012. For transgender individuals, the number was even higher: 36% of trans respondents felt discriminated against at work, a major jump from 22% in 2012.

So, how exactly can HR take steps to improve the inclusion of people with various sexual orientations and gender identities in the workplace? In this article, we’ll explore the unique challenges that LGBT individuals experience in the workplace and how HR can improve inclusion and equality for everyone. Going beyond Pride Month, these are our tips for ensuring year-round support and equality for all employees. 

Firstly, what do we mean by LGBTQ+? 

Stonewall defines the term ‘LGBTQ+’ an acronym that refers to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, or asexual. The plus is often used to cover all other gender identities and sexual orientations, including intersex, non-binary, pansexual, and many more.

Based on the initialism ‘LGBT’ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) which emerged in the 1990s, the terms ‘LGBTQ’, ‘LGBTQ+’, and ‘LGBTQIA+’ are often used interchangeably. These terms are often used to refer to anyone who identifies as non-heterosexual or non-cisgender (cisgender means that a person’s gender identity and expression matches the sex they were assigned at birth).

Why is supporting LGBTQ+ employees a priority for HR?

HR needs to lead the way in making all employees feel safe, comfortable, and accepted in the workplace. With many ‘out’ LGBTQ+ employees experiencing bullying, harassment, the workplace can be a dangerous and uncomfortable place to express your true self. On the other hand, LGBTQ+ staff who haven’t disclosed their identities suffer from the mental health impacts of keeping their true selves hidden at work – one US study found that 40% of LGBTQ+ employees weren’t out at work but more than a quarter of those individuals wished that they could be.

Does being out at work really make a difference to an employee’s performance? Absolutely. A survey from 2020 found that LGBTQ+ employees who are out of the closet at work feel greater psychological safety and are more able to take creative risks; employees who are closeted at work or are facing discrimination because of their identity are less likely to do their best work.

Intersectionality and the LGBTQ community

It’s also important for HR to take a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) approach that recognises the impact of intersectionality on an employee’s workplace experience. Intersectionality refers to the separate and overlapping aspects or labels of a person that can impact the specific discrimination they face. In other words, it’s vital that HR’s diversity and inclusion strategies take an intersectional approach, recognising that distinct factors such as race, class, religion, and ability can also impact LGBTQ+ employees’ experiences.

In practical terms, an intersectional diversity and inclusion policy means HR paying particular attention to the increased levels of discrimination and disadvantage faced by queer people of colour and LGBTQ people with disabilities. 

LGBTQ employees with disabilities are also more likely to receive abuse or harassment at work, with 24% of LGBTQ disabled people reporting that they were excluded by their coworkers in the previous year. Research has show that disabled individuals in the LGBT community experience significantly higher levels of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The business case for a LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace

As well as it being morally important to create an inclusive workplace where everyone feels safe and accepted, research demonstrates that better LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace is linked to better business performance.Studies have found that companies with LGBT-friendly policies tend to be more profitable and more highly valued on the stock market.

The message is clear: a more diverse and inclusive organisation tends to also be a high-performing and profitable one.

LGBTQ+ employees who do not feel supported at work are likely to seek jobs elsewhere. For example, 32% of trans people report thinking frequently about leaving their employer compared to 21% of cisgender people. Trans people more frequently expect to leave their current organisation in less than a year.

Review and create LGBTQ-inclusion policies

It’s important for HR to develop specific policies to support LGBT people and review all existing policies to ensure that they are LGBTQ-friendly. 

An LGBTQ+ inclusion policy is an important part of HR’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and making sure that LGBT people do not face discrimination or microaggressions is a key part of this. Sexual orientation and gender reassignment are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, which protects people from discrimination in and outside the workplace. It should always be clear that discrimination is not acceptable in the workplace. HR can create safe and clear reporting channels where LGBTQ individuals can report any abuse or inappropriate behaviour and ensure that it is dealt with promptly and fairly.

Furthermore, making sure these policies are clearly communicated is key – you might choose to highlight them on your HR software so the details are easily accessible to all, or you might choose to send out notifications reminding employees of these policies. 

Set up an LGBTQ+ network

An LGBTQ+ network is a good way to make sure that employees of all sexual orientations and gender identities have a voice within the organisation. By facilitating a network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and other LGBTQ+ people, HR can ensure that these employees:

  • Have a comfortable and safe space for peer-to-peer support.
  • Can raise awareness of LGBT issues and experiences in the wider organisation (including recruiting non-LGBT coworkers as allies).
  • Can raise issues and provide feedback to the organisation on its policies and LGBT experiences. 

For more information about setting up an LGBT employee network group, read Stonewall’s’ guide here.

Set a positive example with pronouns

Giving employees the opportunity to share their pronouns and ensuring that those pronouns are respected is a key responsibility that HR holds. Whether employees prefer to be referred to as ‘she/her’, ‘he/him’, ‘they/them’, ‘she/they’, or any other combination, it’s important to make sure employees and customers are respecting these. 

If your organisation doesn’t already encourage employees to include their pronouns in email signatures, LinkedIn profiles, and perhaps even on name tags, now is the time to start. If cisgender employees are confused or uncomfortable with pronouns, it might be useful to offer training sessions about why these are important. 

Use data to your advantage

It’s impossible to create effective D&I strategies without data. Using data and analytics from your HR technology, HR employees can track D&I efforts and gather data from pulse surveys and chatbots that analyse employee experience against diversity and inclusion factors. 

By gathering data, HR can keep a finger on the pulse of LGBTQ employee experience within the company and track the progress of efforts to better support these individuals. This can also then inform LGBTQ training strategies, making sure that HR is taking proactive steps to improve employee experience for everyone in the workplace. 

Make your toilets gender-neutral

Offering gender-neutral or unisex toilets is an easy but important way to make your LGBTQ employees more comfortable at work. According to HR leaders quoted in SHRM, offering gender-neutral toilets is way for workplaces to create a more inclusive and affirming environment in addition to demonstrating that they care about taking concrete steps to support employee inclusion.

Provide training 

HR can also offer equality and inclusion training sessions for all employees, both when they join the organisation and as ongoing training throughout their careers. Covering topics such as LGBTQ+ terminology, the importance of gender-neutral language or getting pronouns right, these training sessions, online courses, or presentations can help non-LGBTQ+ employees better understand their coworkers and act as allies. Moreover, this helps build a better work culture where equality and inclusion are demonstrated to be priorities. 

Hire and promote diverse employees

HR and recruitment teams also need to be proactively hiring people from the LGBTQ community. There are a few ways that this can be prioritised – firstly, reaching out to LGBTQ job boards and advertising roles directly to these groups. Secondly, it can be useful to eliminate biased language from job adverts and separate identifying information from applications to eliminate unconscious bias when hiring.

Studies have found that gay employees are less likely to be promoted to the highest level of managerial positions, and LGBTQ employees who are also disabled or BAME are even less likely to be promoted. To tackle this issue, HR can provide unconscious bias training as well as using mentorship initiatives to help increase LGBTQ diversity in higher level positions.

Celebrate LGBTQ+ history with nuance 

Celebrating Pride Month in June is a great way to show appreciation and solidarity with LGBTQ members of the team, but it’s important to bring nuance to the celebrations. Pride month has its origins in the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion which began when police raided a New York City gay bar, leading to six days of protests for LGBTQ rights and violent clashes with the police.

If your Pride Month celebrations are usually limited to putting up some rainbow flags in June, it’s time to do more. Consider organising training or educational events or sharing resources to help educate all employees about the history of the LGBTQ community. However, keep in mind that it’s not the responsibility of LGBTQ staff to educate their coworkers about LGBTQ topics, unless they want to. 

Use self-service HR technology

One simple way that HR can support the LGBTQ+ staff is using a cloud-based HR software that offers self-service capabilities. By giving employees the power to log on to the system from any device or location and edit their personal details and employee profiles, it’s easier than ever for employees to update their name or pronouns on the whole system. Allowing employees to make these changes themselves instead of having to request these changes from HR employees makes a huge difference – it empowers the individuals and saves HR precious time.

Conclusion: Going beyond Pride Month

In June, it often feels like every business is boasting its LGBTQ credentials with pride flags and PR stunts, sometimes leaving LGBTQ individuals confused and disappointed when the performance of inclusion stops at the end of the month.

As Lily Zheng writes in the article Your Rainbow Logo Doesn’t Make You an Ally in Harvard Business Review, ‘Many members of the LGBTQ+ community are tired of “rainbow capitalism,” a term coined to describe how LGBTQ+ symbolism is being wielded by companies to heighten consumerism without leading to meaningful improvement for LGBTQ+ communities.’

The onus is on HR to ensure that meaningful diversity and inclusion efforts happen all year round, with policies, training, and technology all being used to create a more LGBTQ-inclusive environment. Accounting for the rise of remote and hybrid working in recent years, HR needs to take steps to make sure that this form of working still provides a supportive workplace culture for everyone in the team.

If you want to learn more about how XCD’s cloud-based HR software can help your organisation become more inclusive even after the end of Pride Month, contact us today. Alternatively, book a demo and we’ll be happy to show you how our powerful HRMS tool can complement your diversity and inclusion efforts to create a more equal workplace.