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Pride Month: Strategies for LGBT+ Inclusion in the Workplace

Pride Month: Strategies for LGBT+ Inclusion in the Workplace

As we celebrate Pride month, many workplaces will be giving special attention to the well-being and inclusion of LGBT+ employees. We know that inclusive work environments foster greater engagement, a sense of belonging, and improved organizational performance. Organizations that are LGBT+ inclusive have been found to have better talent attraction and retention, increased engagement, and improved collaboration resulting from a more diverse workforce.

For example, a study by Out Now Consulting found that the US economy could save $9 billion annually if organizations effectively implemented Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) policies for LGBT staff. However, LGBT+ inclusion is often not explored within organizations to the same extent as other marginalized groups and often HR policies are not inclusive of LGBT+ employees.

Current State of LGBT+ Acceptance

LGBT+ acceptance has come a long way, as demonstrated when, in 2021, Bangladesh elected its first transgender mayor, while in Angola they revised their penal code to allow for same-sex relationships and banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Although there have been other positive changes across the globe, it is worth noting that internationally this progress is still at risk. For example, homosexuality remains criminalized in 69 countries, and in Europe there have been large-scale anti-LGBT movements in countries such as Poland and Hungary.

Research from Stonewall highlighted that in 2022 that within the UK, people are more likely to support the LGBT+ community, with 1 in 3 people reporting that they actively "respect" LGBT+ individuals and one in five declaring "admiration." Moreover, more than 7 in 10 British people would support someone close to them who came out as LGBT+, and greater numbers now feel comfortable being out as their true selves. 

Stonewall’s research also indicated that despite the positive findings, there have still been some backwards steps . For example, the UK government reversed its promise to implement a trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices, resulting in a ban that does not protect all LGBT+ individuals from abuse. Additionally, the UK Government’s own research has shown that reported LGBT+ hate crime has grown at double the rate of other forms of hate crime over the past two years. Stonewall reported that even in 2022, “too many LGBTQ+ people still have to hide who they are in the workplace.”

 A new term, the "lavender ceiling," refers to the barrier LGBT+ employees face in terms of career advancement. Recent research has found that within the Fortune 500, there are only 10 LGBT+ directors, representing only 0.03% of CEOs on the list who are openly part of the LGBT+ community. Bias is a significant contributor to the idea of the lavender ceiling therefore, training to reduce bias and specific policy is key to supporting LGBT+ employees.

Inclusion at work for LGBT+ individuals is more than just a tick-the-box exercise for HR. HR policies should enable LGBT+ people to have the same opportunities to thrive as anyone else. Here are some strategies that can drive that change.

Driving Change Through Recruitment

Within organizations, recruitment practices can be fraught with unconscious bias. Unconscious or implicit biases are attitudes and/or stereotypes that influence our actions without conscious awareness. There are many types of unconscious bias that can occur when hiring; for example, a recruiter can unknowingly favor candidates who share similarities in their appearance, background, and interests with the recruiter. For LGBT+ individuals, recruitment practices can be particularly discriminatory. Stonewall found that 18% of LGBT+ people who were looking for work were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation/gender identity, and 35% of LGBT+ people looking for work worried about being discriminated against. It is crucial that your recruitment team is trained to understand the different biases that occur toward LGBT+ candidates and how to avoid them. 

HR needs to show commitment as LGBT+ allies from the very beginning of the recruitment process. One approach organizations can use to reduce unconscious bias is "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 can reduce its impact on your recruitment process. 

Driving Change Through Organizational Policies

A 2015 review of FTSE 100 firms found that 80% overlooked LGBT+ employees in their organizational policies. In 2018, over a third of FTSE 100 companies made no reference to LGBT+ issues in their annual reports. Moreover, wording in policies is also still problematic for non-cisgender people, as policies tend to include binary pronouns. Not only are many policies not protective of LGBT+ people, some aren’t even inclusive of their identities.

As organizational policies can serve as barriers to LGBT+ inclusion, HR leaders should create policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity (SOGI). For example, HR leaders should consider creating a separate policy for LGBT+ inclusion. This is a clear way to show an organization's commitment to tackling both homophobia and transphobia in the workplace. Within these policies, HR leaders should outline measures and consequences of harassment and discrimination towards LGBT+ employees and ensure all policies implement gender-neutral language.

How Else Can HR Support LGBT+ Inclusion?

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.

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.

Educating Employees

As there is a tendency to conflate sexualized behavior and LGBT+ identity, 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. 

HR leaders should implement specific training as part of their DEIB strategy. For example, employees could receive training on how 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. 

Improving LGBT+ Inclusion by Utilizing Survey Data

At Perceptyx, we help our customers to 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 consider the following:

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? Asking SOGI questions or LGBT+ specific items is not something new, but attention around it is increasing. HR leaders 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. 

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 for 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 mis-categorization 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.

If the wording of questions and items is 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 add 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.

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.

An Insights-Driven Approach to LGBT+ Inclusivity

HR leaders play a critical role in establishing and capturing data on LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace. They can support initiatives that establish equitable processes and outcomes for all employees and ensure that selection, promotion, and development opportunities are available to all LGBT+ employees.

To learn more about how Perceptyx can support your efforts to develop effective DEIB programming and empower your LGBT+ employees, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.

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