Equality and Diversity in the workplace: The Importance of being LGBTQ+ positive

LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace is a non-negotiable requirement for employees

Embracing the reality of diversity and choosing to include every employee without exception isn’t a lofty ideal; it’s a non-negotiable requirement for positive wellbeing in the workplace.

Inclusivity isn’t just about acknowledging that every employee deserves to be who they are, regardless of their sexual orientation. Inclusivity is about organisations engaging with entrenched attitudes and stereotypes enough to challenge the prejudice upon which they are based.

We’ve come a long way

As, in 2019, we mark fifty years since the seminal Stonewall Riots in the USA, and 37 years since the murder of Declan Flynn, the catalyst for the LGBTQ Pride movement in Ireland, it’s important to acknowledge that we’ve made great strides.

Recent LGBT Surveys highlight an increasingly positive record in advancing equality – a reputation helped by protective legislation such as the European Union Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC). In the UK, the repeal of the section 28 law in 2003 that banned intentionally promoting sexual orientation in school has also played a significant part in inspiring a whole new generation of young people.

There’s still work to do

The trouble is that, according to the LGBT rights charity Stonewall, 60% of those resilient people who were ‘out’ at university decide to go back into the closet as soon as they enter the job market. With LGBTQ+ people yet to fully participate in public life, clearly, there is still work to do. For every forward-thinking company that sees it as a business imperative to have a positive culture of inclusion, there are just as many organisations that just haven’t kept the same pace in social and legal progress, in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

Similarly, in Ireland, according to a multi-country survey conducted by Vodafone, 78% of people have hidden their sexual orientation in the workplace at least for one period of time in their lives. In addition, almost one in five LGBTQ+  employees have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues, with two in five respondents experiencing an incident because they were LGBTQ+. Furthermore, one in eight trans people have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues, with nine in ten of the most serious incidents going unreported.

Difference at a cost to wellbeing

Unsurprisingly, faced with such significant barriers, LGBTQ+ employees are impacted by mental health difficulties on a far greater scale than heterosexual people. At present, four out of five LGBTQ+ people experience mental health conditions, with 72% attributing such issues to their experiences in the workplace. Added to which, the LGBTQ+ community is 50% more likely to experience long-term mental health problems and six times more likely to attempt suicide.

Workplace discrimination – and its many different forms

Low confidence, de-motivation, anxiety and stress are hardly conducive to a positive wellbeing culture – nor is the fact that despite the apparent acceptance and tolerance, day-to-day discrimination towards LGBTQ+ in the workplace looks different to what’s written on paper. Discrimination often comes in the form of employee assumptions, stereotyping and a lack of proper control over the disclosure process. And yes, office ‘banter’ – perhaps the most telling sign of whether or not an organisation has an inclusive culture – creates a false hierarchy that leaves employees wary of daily interactions with their co-workers. And even after a LGBTQ+ employee has expressed their sexual orientation, many have to then contend with social expectations and being measured against stereotypes – along with a load of preconceived assumptions, prejudice and bias.

Create an inclusive workplace

The challenge faced by organisations is that banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and talking about the importance of diversity and inclusion won’t change people’s world views. That’s why it’s so important to change the work environment and the context in which decisions are made so that employees gradually alter their frame of reference and their behaviour to one of teamwork and positivity.

Have inclusivity policies

Making a formal commitment to protect LGBTQ+ employees goes a long way towards creating a culture of equality and trust. Organisations should have targeted LGBTQ+ discrimination sections explicitly mentioned in every one of their policies and procedures. If managers at all levels are trained and educated in inclusivity as a core competency too, they can establish clear boundaries of what inclusivity is and what behaviour is not acceptable. In addition, creating inclusion strategies and behaviours based on benchmarking key aspects of their culture, will enable an organisation to understand the employee experience enough to know the shortcomings, and how to make the workplace more attractive to LGBTQ+ people.

Choose inclusivity when hiring

Having the benefits of inclusion included as part of standard HR practice sounds simple enough, but as Stephen Frost, CEO of Frost Included, once said; “unless you consciously include, you will unconsciously exclude”. He was right. Only when organisations purposely make the recruitment and hiring process diverse and fair will they create positive wellbeing in the workplace. This means being aware of the unconscious bias in the decision-making process. Translated: It can be very easy to discriminate without even intending to.

Celebrate inclusivity with diversity

If British MP for Women and Equalities, Rt. Hon. Penny Mordaunt, says that everyone should be able to go as far as their hard work and talent will take them, then LGBTQ+ employees shouldn’t have to waste mental energy in hiding their authentic selves when they could be forming honest relationships and fulfilling their potential.

Employees who can be themselves at work are much more likely to experience positive wellbeing and feel valued and connected to the business to want to stay. Furthermore, having a workforce with diverse points of view, ensures better decision-making and greater innovation, driving business growth and higher financial returns. In short: The more inclusive an organisation is, the better it is for business and employee wellbeing.

Inclusivity through purposeful practices

Employees won’t know their workplace is LGBTQ+ friendly unless the organisation finds clear ways to demonstrate their position. However, finding bold and subtle ways is by no means a linear process and is one that must continually evolve. Whether it’s having gender-neutral toilets, or sponsoring relevant events associated with the LGBTQ+ community, the wider the remit, the more statements of support.

Inclusivity from introducing an ally programme

In addition to offering diversity and inclusion elements to a workplace wellbeing programme, organisations can also introduce an Ally programme to educate the workforce about LGBTQ+ issues. Comprised of non-LGBT+ as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community, ‘Ally’ refers to people who believe in, and act to advance, LGBT equality. Companies such as Accenture – who currently have over 13,000 LGBT Allies in their global initiative – are a successful example of responsible leadership creating supportive LGBTQ+ networks.

Ally programmes such as these are a testament to the progress that has already been made in the business world. However, unless every organisation in the UK supports full equality in the workplace through daily work practices, we’re a long way off from real inclusion. For while there are plenty of ways to promote inclusion, there is only one way to create a positive wellbeing culture – inclusion. We must make it happen.