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How Organizations can be LGBT+ Inclusive

By Alicia Dean - June 15, 2021

In our previous blog post, we discussed the barriers and discrimination LGBT+ employees face at work. Although the statistics are concerning, there are steps organizations can take to be more LGBT+ inclusive.

In this blog post, we’ll share how organizations can create an inclusive workplace where LGBT+ employees feel safe and are empowered to bring their authentic selves to work.

Create Inclusive Recruitment Practices and Policies 

People form opinions about what it’s like to work for your organization the moment they apply, so include statements of equality and inclusion in job descriptions and on your organization’s website. You can also show public support for the LGBT+ community on your organization's social media platforms. 

Moreover, recruitment practices can be unconsciously biased. Unconscious or implicit biases are attitudes and/or stereotypes that influence our actions without conscious awareness. There are many types of unconscious biases that can occur when hiring. For example, recruiters can unknowingly favor a candidate who is similar to themselves in appearance, background and interests. It is, therefore, crucial that your recruitment team is trained to understand the different biases that occur toward LGBT+ candidates and how to avoid them. 

Another approach for organizations to reduce unconscious biases is to use “blind recruitment,” where personal details are removed from job applications so that recruiters consider skills and capabilities instead. Although unconscious bias will always be a factor to consider when hiring employees, training and greater awareness reduces its influence on your recruitment process.

As organizational policies can be barriers to LGBT+ inclusion, create policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity (SOGI). Outline measures and consequences of harassment/discrimination towards LGBT+ employees, using gender-neutral language. 

Ensure these policies are communicated to employees to reinforce their purpose, otherwise they will be seen as “empty promises.'' That said, Webster and colleagues state that employers who aim to be inclusive of LGBT+ employees need more than policies and practices; they need inclusive cultures that are “grounded in supportive co-worker interactions.”

Social Support is Key

Social support from heterosexual/cisgender colleagues, known as allies, is important for LGBT+ inclusion. According to researchers Washington and Evans, an ally is “a person who is a member of a majority group who works as an advocate to end oppression for the oppressed population.” Allies have been instrumental in increasing the inclusion of LGBT+ employees.

Additionally, organizations can create employee network groups for LGBT+ employees to connect with one another. These groups foster a sense of belonging, especially since LGBT+ employees often feel excluded in the workplace. All in all, supportive work relationships have a positive impact on work attitudes and the well-being of LGBT+ employees, and are critical to increasing LGBT+ inclusivity, according to Webster and colleagues.

As with any culture change, senior leaders need to drive behavioral changes in the organization. They need to visibly support the LGBT+ community and role model behaviors for the rest of the organization to follow. For example, leaders must support those who report bullying or harassment, by ensuring the problem is addressed. They must also ensure career opportunities are made available to LGBT+ employees and proactively support them in achieving their career goals. By role modeling ally behavior from the top down, your organization can develop, increase and emphasize an LGBT+ inclusive work environment.

Educate your Employees

As there is the tendency for conflating sexualized behavior and LGBT+ people, some employees may feel uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ topics, and even think that they are inappropriate for the workplace. This highlights the need for education within organizations aimed at reducing discrimination and exclusion. Employees should be educated about the spectrum of LGBT+ identities and how to spot and address discrimination, biases and microaggressions. However, the benefits of education will not happen quickly and implementing such a program requires time and effort. 

Employees should also learn to use gender-neutral language when referring to LGBT+ colleagues as it is important for LGBT+ employees’ feeling of inclusivity. Encourage employees to become comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns. Some organizations ask all employees to put their pronouns in their email signature, regardless of their sexuality/gender identity. Having all employees do this, rather than just LGBT+ employees can: reduce the isolation of LGBT+ employees, stop colleagues from making assumptions about sexual orientation/gender identity, reduce misgendering and normalize gender pronouns. This is simple and quick for organizations to implement but you should never force employees to do this, as some LGBT+ employees may want to keep their identity concealed.

Remember that mistakes will happen as employees get used to using gender-neutral pronouns, however, it is important to learn and not make the same mistakes again. 

Utilize Survey Data

At Perceptyx, we help our clients better understand areas of strengths and to prioritize areas of opportunity. Exploring strengths and opportunities through the lens of sexual orientation and/or gender identity is important for many organizations. This data can help inform policy development and to champion LGBT+ inclusion. If organizations do choose to collect this kind of data, they should make the following considerations beforehand: 

Investigate legal requirements in different countries

Globally, there are different legal requirements for collecting and reporting LGBT+ data. In countries where being openly LGBT+ is illegal and there is no protection against discrimination, LGBT+ questions should not be included in a survey. Therefore, the first step is to liaise with your legal team when discussing which LGBT+ items you can include in your survey.

What do you need to know? Why are you asking? 

Bearing in mind the differences between sex/gender identity and/or sexual orientation, be clear on what you want to capture and report on. Why do you need to know this information and what are you going to do with it? Have you communicated the reasons why you are collecting it to your employees? 

Asking SOGI questions or LGBT+ specific items is not something new, but attention around it is increasing. Organizations should have a plan for how they will respond to questions from employees about LGBT+ initiatives. If you introduce these ideas without linking them to the company strategy, you are unlikely to see the benefits. 

Moreover, some employees will have negative reactions. Some may wonder why LGBT+ topics were introduced without communication. Others may not be aligned with LGBT+ concerns and will question why they’re being asked about such topics. 

This survey feedback can help an organization enhance their diversity and inclusion initiatives, but it is best practice to communicate to all employees a) why the organization is collecting LGBT+ data and how it links to the company’s wider strategies, b) how the data is stored, c) who will have access to it, and d) how it will be used.  

How should you ask SOGI questions?

Most organizations have attributed surveys to capture and report on gender from their Human Resource Information System (HRIS). This information is almost always binary (e.g., female or male). As it doesn’t account for individuals who don’t identify as simply female or male, you may still want to ask self-report items in your survey to capture non-binary identities. 

If you include demographic items in your survey then, where legally possible, include a question that allows employees to identify as non-binary. You can add an “other” option, but research shows that three options are not enough. Research by Suen and colleagues suggests that the lack of open text fields to self-identify and the inability to select more than one answer option can reduce engagement and lead to miscategorization of demographic groups. Their research also found that the common SOGI questions don’t capture the fluidity and complexity of gender/sexual identities. Furthermore, demographic question stems and answers are ambiguous because boundaries between Sexual Orientation (SO) and Gender Identity (GI) exist on a spectrum and are not clear cut. Consequently, a restrictive question can reduce inclusion and representation of LGBT+ individuals. In this research, participants requested that SOGI questions capture and normalize SO and GI fluidity, by understanding that an individual's identity is multidimensional and can vary and change over their lifetime.

If the wording of questions and items are unclear, employees may be unsure how to answer, resulting in less meaningful data. Even worse, inappropriately worded questions can offend employees. Organizations can provide clear response options by adding qualifiers. For example, for the option “male,” you can include the qualifier, “including transgender men” or include definitions of terms used so that employees understand what they mean. Ensure you give employees a “prefer not to say” option so answers are never forced.

As not everyone subscribes to gender, you can ask “which of the following best/most accurately describes you?” You might also include a question for people who have transitioned but don’t use “transgender” or “trans” to describe themselves. You could instead ask, “Is your gender identity the same as the sex you were assigned at birth?Again, think about why you would need to know that. 

For employees who self-identify as LGBT+, you can use branching to ask Likert scale or open-ended questions that capture more information about LGBT+ experiences at work. You may also choose to ask how open someone is about their sexual orientation/gender identity at work. This enables you to evaluate whether employees feel comfortable being open about their sexuality/gender identity in the workplace and whether it impacts engagement scores. 

When first introducing LGBT+ demographics or LGBT+ specific survey questions, individuals’ willingness to self-identify might be low. It could take several surveys for responses to these questions to increase and for employees to trust that they won’t be individually identified. Keep in mind that low uptake to these “opt-in” questions could be indicative that certain groups do not feel comfortable sharing this information; it is a good idea to monitor the proportions of people who feel comfortable self-coding themselves on these types of questions, as confidence and trust in the organization increases. 

Final Recommendations 

There are many steps that organizations can take to improve LGBT+ inclusion, from policy updates to encouraging social support. For many organizations, utilizing survey data might be the first step to better understand inclusion issues. Organizations should then think carefully about what data to collect and why, and always liaise with legal teams to find what legally can be asked in a survey. 

Within the survey be clear and use inclusive language and avoid binary options—failure to do so looks more like a tick-the-box exercise rather than genuine interest from the organization. Finally, where legally possible do ask SOGI/LGBT+ specific questions. Although it may take time to gain data, and you may not see the benefits right away, being proactive and raising awareness of LGBT+ concerns can lead to increased inclusivity for LGBT+ employees and greater benefits for the organization as a whole. 

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