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10 Simple Ways To Be More LGBTQ+ Inclusive At Work

12 months ago by Rose Hunt

10 Simple Ways To Be More LGBTQ+ Inclusive At Work

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Everyone deserves the right to be their authentic selves at work, but for the LGBTQ+ community, this can come with challenges. According to a Human Rights Campaign Foundation report, 46% of LGBTQ+ employees don’t feel comfortable being open about their identity with their colleagues. Some fear being the victim of inappropriate comments, some are wary of homophobia and discrimination, and some simply don’t want to face scrutiny into their romantic and personal lives. This is something we can all agree needs to change. However, figuring out how to be supportive and inclusive of our LGBTQ+ peers can be tricky – no one wants to say the wrong thing, or make someone feel uncomfortable. With this in mind, we’ve put together 10 simple tips anyone can action to become a more effective ally at the office and beyond. 

1. Educate yourself

Learning about the history of the LGBTQ+ community will give you a better vantage point from which to understand the current challenges members of the community face in society and in the workplace. Thankfully, the internet has a plethora of resources available, but it’s important to know which are reliable and which are not. We recommend the Safe Zone Project or the Trevor Project as great starting points, and you can also check out this handy vocabulary list that will help you to be as respectful and accurate as possible when using identifying language. 

2. Don’t make assumptions

You may think your gaydar is spot on, but it’s important to remember that you can’t tell whether or not someone is LGBTQ+ just by looking at them. Even if you suspect someone might be gay, trans, or lesbian, they’ll discuss this with you as and when they feel comfortable, and likely don’t want to be questioned about it. Conversely, don’t assume that someone’s straight just because they conform to certain stereotypes. If you want to ask a co-worker a question about their personal life, try phrases that are as inclusive as possible such as, ‘Do you have a partner?’ instead of ‘Do you have a husband/wife?’ 

3. Examine your own bias

All of us like to think we’re unbiased, but we’re wrong. Making snap judgements or relying on gut feeling is simply a part of human nature – a mental shortcut that our brains are hardwired to perform. This can impact our interactions and decision making even when we’re determined to be fair and open-minded. It can therefore be helpful to learn about some of the ways that implicit bias can manifest itself in the workplace, as well as use tools to discover your own level of bias such as this one from Harvard university. 

4. Be discreet

Just because a co-worker has revealed to you that they’re gay, doesn’t mean everyone else knows too, nor does it mean they’ll be comfortable with you discussing their sexuality with others. For instance, they may have decided not to tell their manager because it makes their life easier. Feel free to privately ask them if everyone else knows, but if not, take extra care with how you speak to or about them in front of others.

5. Don’t ask intrusive questions

It’s never polite to ask people questions about their sex lives or their bodies, but LGBTQ+ people go through this much more than most. A 2018 report from Stonewall revealed that 48% of trans people had been the subject of inappropriate curiosity, which at best can be irritating, and at worst offensive. Although it’s okay to want to learn more, you should always wait for your colleagues to offer this information themselves rather than pry. And remember, some questions aren’t appropriate for the workplace full stop. 

6. Make a stand

43% of LGBTQ employees reported hearing inappropriate comments about their sexual orientation at work, and 47% reported hearing unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature. Similarly, 57% of employees who’ve heard homophobic ‘banter’ at work have been too scared to say or do anything to stop it. You can therefore be an ally by speaking up when you hear derogatory or inappropriate remarks, which will likely give others the confidence to speak up too. You could also consider taking a look at your employee handbook and request that your HR department adds language related to respectful workplaces, gender identification and sexual orientation if you discover it’s lacking. 

7. Consider your language choices

People who are transgender, nonbinary or genderfluid deal with a lot of bias and misunderstanding on a daily basis, and this can be especially stressful at work. Make an effort to ask what someone’s preferred pronouns are, and be sure to use them correctly whenever you’re speaking to or about that person. Adding your own pronouns to your email signature or LinkedIn profile will also signify to others that you understand and appreciate their significance. Additionally, consider using non-gendered language when speaking with other colleagues, for example, using “Hi everyone” or “Hi folks” to address a group. 

8. Don’t expect to be perfect right away

During the process of becoming an ally, it’s possible that you’ll unintentionally do or say something that upsets others. It’s important to be kind to yourself and recognise that you’re on a learning curve, whilst also taking steps to amend your behaviour in the future and apologise if you cause offense. Remember, you’re doing your best and that’s what counts. 

9. Rally senior leadership

It’s well known that organisations with strong diversity and inclusion values benefit from increased employee trust and engagement, and a culture of inclusion starts at the top. Reach out and encourage senior leaders to become vocal champions for ED&I issues, and become involved in local LGBTQ+ networks. This helps LGBTQ+ employees feel as though they’re supported and free to be their authentic selves at work. 

10. Step back

Part of acting as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is to recognise that it’s important to know when to use your voice to stand in solidarity, and when to step back and let others take centre stage. Use your privilege to highlight and support underrepresented voices, rather than talking over them. 

Ultimately, it’s an unfortunate fact that the workplace remains an environment in which many LGBTQ+ people feel unable to express their true identity. Although attending Pride parades and waving rainbow flags is great, by thinking more carefully about how you act towards your queer colleagues on a daily basis, you can be an ally all year round. 

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