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14th Jun, 2022

Christy Houghton
Christy Houghton
Job Title
Digital Content Writer

Pride month is a chance to reflect on the year’s progress and consider what can still be improved to promote equality and support for all LGBTQ+ employees.

Workplace challenges LGBTQ+ people face in 2022

LGBTQ+ people – which refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and more identities outside the cisgender, heterosexual norm – have been prone to ‘code switching’, which is a psychological defence mechanism, and it means people are not being fully themselves. Not being able to bring your full self to work can be detrimental to your mental health and productivity.

Microaggressions can go undetected by people with unconscious biases and can have a strong impact on people they are aimed at. These subtle digs can be disguised as ‘banter’, which makes it harder to stamp out due to their seemingly innocuous nature. Misgendering someone (using the wrong pronouns) can have a severe impact on trans or non-binary people, even if it’s unintentional, which it often is.

Equality between LGBTQ+ professionals and their cisgender, heterosexual colleagues has not yet been achieved and may never be perfect; there is always something that can be improved in the workplace.

The Chartered Management Institute recently found that three-quarters (74%) of the thousand people they surveyed said their line managers were not given training around inclusion of LGBTQ+ workers.

And earlier this year, CIPD found that over 40% of LGB+ workers have experienced a work-based conflict in the last year, rising to 55% among trans workers. Transphobia is prominent in the UK, but it doesn’t exist in isolation. Stonewall’s recent Take Pride report found strong links between transphobia, biphobia and homophobia – meaning that people are unlikely to have one type of LGBTQ+ prejudice without the others.

While prejudice still exists in the workplace, we have seen substantial progress. Stonewall’s research shows that, while feelings of disgust, pity, fear and resentment occur in about 10% of the 2,000 surveyed, respect and admiration is much more prevalent (almost 40%).

How employers can make a difference

Chris Brindley, Reed’s Inclusion and Belonging Lead, says: “My advice to employers would be to start at the top. No matter how big or small the organisation, a lot of how LGBTQ+ people will feel about working somewhere is related to culture and behaviours, and behaviours are driven from the top.

“Leaders should display the behaviours they expect to see in others around them and support an open and inclusive culture.”

By creating an inclusive culture, LGBTQ+ people will feel safer bringing their whole self to work, which has been known to increase productivity and companies’ bottom lines.

Visibility, accountability and authenticity

Iain MacLeod, LGBTQ+ D&I Ambassador for Reed Talent Solutions, echoes Chris’ points by stating that companies must be visible in their support for the LGBTQ+ community, but it can’t just be a tick-box exercise and they must demonstrate active allyship for LGBTQ+ people to feel they are in a safe space.

A flag is a great way to symbolise that you openly welcome LGBTQ+ people into your organisation, but it doesn’t have to be loud and proud, it can be a small pride flag sticker on a window or a rainbow lanyard if you’re in a video call – just as long as it’s visible.

It’s important that you don’t only do this every June, but that you are supporting the community all year.

Employers who encourage their LGBTQ+ employees to form groups within the company are far more likely to retain staff than those that don’t. It shows individuals that they aren’t alone and that they are in a welcoming and supportive environment. This also gives your LGBTQ+ workforce a platform to share ideas on how to create more diversity and inclusion within the company.

Take ownership of where your company is on its journey towards LGBTQ+ equality and ensure that you are honest about any areas that require improvement and how you plan to address them. Individuals can do the same, holding themselves accountable for their words and actions.

Active listening and communication

Reinforce your openness and honesty on the subject by listening to the voices of your LGBTQ+ employees. Be inquisitive, ask people what they need, and do your best as a leader to accommodate their requests. There are many ways to show respect for the LGBTQ+ community, including being vigilant about the language you use.

Inclusive language is crucial to creating an inclusive workplace culture. If someone asks you not to use a certain word which they find offensive, listen to their point of view and simply apologise and take what they say to heart. It’s an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and do better next time. Regardless of your intentions, words can have a big impact and it’s important to understand what you should and shouldn’t say.

Certain words can be used by the groups they were once used against, as a form of reclamation, but should not be used by someone with privilege. For instance, the word ‘queer’ might be offensive if used by a cisgender heterosexual person, but acceptable from someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community. A good rule of thumb is that, unless you identify as a queer person, it would be inappropriate for you to use the word.

Practicing and normalising inclusive behaviours, such as volunteering your pronouns in introductions, and giving people the opportunity to share theirs if they wish to, is a great way to actively show that you are an ally. It’s a simple courtesy that goes a long way for your trans and non-binary employees. It gives them the opportunity to reveal who they are and bring their whole selves to work.

Inclusive recruitment and retention

This also works for job applications and email signatures – as long as the box which asks for pronouns or gender identity are made optional. While it is good to encourage people to share their pronouns, making it compulsory could have the opposite effect and could ‘out’ someone prematurely.

Gendered language in your job description or person specification can discourage people from applying for roles they would be suitable for if they don’t identify with that gender. Gender-neutral language isn’t just about using ‘they’ pronouns, it can be far more nuanced and based on masculine and feminine stereotypes. For example, male-coded words often have more aggressive connotations than female-coded words.

This subconsciously tells the reader that you have someone in mind, and that they don’t necessarily fit your idea of the ideal candidate. There are several tools you can use to de-code this gendered language, to ensure that you are entirely unbiased and inclusive, and that you don’t alienate a large portion of the talent pool. With this de-coding process, people outside the gender binary will be able to better envision themselves in your role and therefore will be more likely to apply.

For your existing employees to feel valued, you must review your inclusion and diversity policy at least annually to ensure it still fulfils the needs of your LGBTQ+ workforce. You must be agile and able to accommodate the needs of individuals who enter your company as well as your current employees.

Final thoughts

Overall, it doesn’t have to cost anything to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ people. It’s about understanding and treating people with the respect you would like to be shown.

LGBTQ+ people are far more likely to be attracted to a company that is openly supportive of their community and will have greater longevity if they feel their employer cares about their safety and comfort in the workplace. Most professionals, even outside the LGBTQ+ community, will be encouraged to work in a company that supports diversity and inclusion.

Diversifying your workforce brings diversity of thought, experience, and creativity, which all contribute positively to the success of your business.

For more advice on being an ally to your LGBTQ+ workforce, find your nearest Reed office and speak to one of our specialist recruiters.