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The Importance of LGBT Inclusive Diversity Policies at Work

7 July 2017 | About a 3 minute read
Tags: change, Communication, diversity, inclusion, LGBT, London, London Pride, policies, pride, pride2017, support


A diversity inclusion policy aimed towards LGBT people is necessary for many more reasons than basic human rights. Employees who feel they have to remain closeted at work for fear of bullying or rejection can become isolated and unhappy. This fear leads to over 30% of gay men and women concealing their sexuality from colleagues. Companies should be doing more to promote an inclusive, safe environment.

 

The lack of such a policy can feel like “don’t ask, don’t tell”. In many places of work this is not the case, but the absence of an open dialogue means there is often no dialogue at all. Not feeling able to be yourself at work impacts relationships with colleagues, job satisfaction and productivity. It can seem insurmountable for an individual to begin this dialogue by themselves. Most companies have an overarching generic policy on diversity, though for many people, this is read as “not about me”. Having a policy specifically worded that caters to the needs of LGBT people shifts conversations and understanding.

 

For people who aren’t ‘out’ at work, a significant amount of time and energy is spent hiding parts of their personalities, weekend activities and relationships. This can make forming healthy connections with colleagues and clients difficult, if not impossible. Everyday conversations can become a minefield of questions to dodge. Constant alterations to how you describe your lifestyle can introduce anxiety, meaning spending time at work becomes stressful.

 

Many new employees make the decision to remain closeted at the time that they join. Without a publicised LGBT diversity policy and commitment to inclusion, many consider it less risky to keep their sexuality hidden. This decision is hard to reverse, especially after being at the company for a longer period time. Having a policy described during the hiring and onboarding process removes any ambiguity about the company’s stance on diversity. This can be an important signal for somebody to decide whether they wish to ‘come out’ to new colleagues.

 

There are some additional activities companies can do to improve the situation. Most importantly, companies should collect anonymised data on gender identity and sexuality on joining, allowing the employee to update it at any time, with the option to opt out. This will indicate whether there is a need to consider updating hiring policies. Involving straight allies to increase support and visibility is important, as it indicates a cultural commitment to supporting all colleagues. Sponsoring a pride party, inviting LGBT speakers or hosting an event about LGBT topics to share experiences involves a wider, external community. Forming support groups for both LGBT employees and allies keeps the community involved and visible, and can act as a point of contact for people joining the company. At AND Digital, we have a #lgbt channel on Slack where people share articles and organise events, such as London Pride. Developing a policy that includes processes on training about regulations, as well as how to identify and report homophobic bullying promotes a safe environment.

 

It is important that this is driven and communicated from the company management. Change will not come overnight, but it sends the message that the business wants progress and takes the needs of LGBT employees seriously. If more businesses have a visible, publicised LGBT diversity and inclusion policy, wider change will follow.

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