LGBT* History Month: What we can do to create an inclusive workplace
Written by Daniel Sheehan
February marked LGBT* History Month in the UK.
This is an important opportunity for us all to learn about our past, reflect on the progress achieved and understand the steps we still need to make.
While we can be proud of the advances made in the LGBT* rights movement, there is still space for improvement everywhere.
And this includes the workplace. Where we work has a huge impact on our lives. It’s where we spend a significant portion of our days and somewhere we should be comfortable with our co-workers.
However, too many LGBT* people still struggle to be themselves and feel the need to hide who they are in the workplace. A 2018 study by LGBT* charity Stonewall found that more than a third of LGBT staff have hidden that they are LGBT* at work because they were afraid of discrimination.
This is not good enough. And it is everyone’s responsibility to create an environment where people feel safe to be themselves without fear.
Here are some steps we can all take to create an inclusive workplace.
Language is essential to creating a workplace environment where everyone is welcome and included.
When language is misused, it can leave people feeling alienated. Therefore, it is important the language we use is inclusive.
Inclusive language is a way to treat everyone with respect, dignity, and impartiality.
This can be as simple as referring to a colleague’s husband/wife/boyfriend/ girlfriend as their “partner”. It also means being considerate of everyone’s gender identity.
Making the wrong assumption about someone’s gender identity or expression and, by extension, their pronouns, can be insulting and harmful.
Opportunities to be considerate of gender identity can include:
- Normalising pronouns by including your personal pronouns email signature
- Avoiding gendered language when addressing groups (“guys”) and opting for gender neutral greetings (“team”, “folks”, & “everyone”)
- In recruitment, providing a space to the applicant to choose their preferred pronouns through the application process
Changing to inclusive language can be difficult as our language is embedded deeply within us and rooted in habit. But making the effort is an important show of respect to your colleagues.
Play your part as an ally
The reality is the majority of the workforce most likely will not identify as LGBT*.
This underlines the importance of allyship. Straight and cisgender employees have a critical role to play in creating an inclusive workplace.
Yes, using the right language is part of being an ally, but it goes beyond that too.
Everyone must educate themselves, reflect on their own experiences and see how they can support their LGBT* co-workers.
To be an ally, you don’t have to be loud or tell everyone about your actions. Instead, you can:
- Consider what you post and share on social media; have an inclusive online presence
- Embrace discomfort and take the time to recognise and acknowledge your privilege and unconscious bias
- Connect with your LGBT* colleagues with genuine interest and empathy, listening to their experiences and challenges and finding a way to help
Management teams can cultivate a culture of compassion within workplaces to encourage these actions.
And if you witness co-workers using incorrect language or insensitive remarks, remember that this may not necessarily be malicious. Everyone has different levels of experience and knowledge so take the time to educate them on why these words are not acceptable.
And remember, this is not a joke. However well meaning your intent, the idea that you can show support by ‘having a laugh’ at someone’s expense is not supportive. It is the very opposite of that. People do not have to find the funny side of a joke that is insensitive, offensive or discriminatory. And in not finding it funny, they are not having a sense of humour failure. They are being human. They are entitled to live their life without fear of discrimination, humiliation or bullying. So ask yourself before you make an unwise crack – what is it you’re trying to demonstrate? This is an opportunity for everyone to learn and grow. We all have a role to play in making that happen.
A workplace for everyone
In 2022, we all have a part to play in ensuring work is a place where we all feel welcome.
This can be achieved by being mindful of the language we use, and properly educating ourselves.
These changes won’t happen overnight. But with encouragement and example shown from the top-down, we can bring real, meaningful progress that improves the lives of our LGBT* co-workers.