According to research done by the Human Rights Campaign, over half of all Fortune 500
companies have a non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation and over 100 private employers protect gender identity in their non-discrimination clause.
Some states such as California have passed domestic partner laws, and gender nondiscrimination acts.
These laws will help promote diversity in the workplace, but alone they are not sufficient in creating an environment where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people feel included and are able to do their best work.
Employers need to ask themselves if they are doing enough to create that comfortable environment where everyone can be productive, creative and work as a team.
In order to do this its important for leaders to address any biases they might have about any LGBT issues, and assumptions they make. Laws and policies are important but that does not mean that every LGBT person is ready to come out. It they do not feel safe, supported and believe that they will still be given an equal chance for appreciation, responsibility and promotion, they will come to work and work hard at hiding who they are. They will work hard to not use pronouns, and say as little as possible about their personal life. They will either not show up at company social events, come alone, or pretend they are involved in a heterosexual relationship. They will expend energy worrying about not slipping up, saying the "right thing", and avoiding conversations, rather than using that energy to help the organization be more profitable for fear of being found out. They will worry that if they come out they will be excluded from the informal networking that helps people move up and be seen in an organization.
Other employees might find their unwillingness to talk as being cold, aloof and possibly secretive. This can further create tension, distrust, and interfere with teamwork that is so crucial to get work done.
Of course without the proper support, if employees do come out they can be excluded, discounted and become invisible. They might end up being preached to about their "sins", be the subject of jokes and be subjected to different forms of harassment. If employers do not create a safe environment, LGBT people may not report these incidents but will look elsewhere for employment, costing the company money in recruiting, hiring, and training.
What can you do if you are an employer, or leader of an organization to create the kind of inclusive environment where talented LGBT people will want to stay and help your organization in its success?
Here are some suggestions that come from not only LGBT people but from reviewing best practices of organizations like Ford, IBM and Lucent.
- Understand your biases and don't make assumptions. Most of the time you don't know who is an LGBT person unless they tell you.
- Know that LGBT people are not looking for special treatment but want the same protections everyone else gets. That also means do not hire someone who is not qualified just because they are LGBT. Like any other employee if someone is inappropriate, or not working, take corrective action. There are many other talented and qualified LGBT people.
- Don't assume that being an LGBT person means they have a "different lifestyle" and stop yourself and other people from using that term. LGBT come in all colors, ethnic backgrounds, have families, and people they love. They have all kinds of interests, recreational activities and lifestyles. 4- As a leader you have to set an example and model the behavior you expect from all of your employees in terms of harassment and discrimination.
- If you hear a joke about LGBT people or any other group, it is your responsibility to intervene and stop it. To be silent implies your consent.
- Be clear that you have a zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination and any other anti-LGBT behavior, as well as harassment of any other specific groups.
- Include sexual orientation and gender expression and identity in your diversity mission statement. Make sure all employees are aware of that statement and your written policies. Posting them up in the restrooms is not enough.
- Make sure that everyone in your organization attends diversity training and that LGBT issues are a part of it.
- Support and encourage LGBT affinity groups, and create a communication channel between the group and senior leadership. Attend an LGBT affinity group meeting and encourage others to do so. Affinity groups should be open to all employees who want to understand people who are different than themselves.
- On invitations for company social events use the word guest next to the employees name rather than spouse.
- Respect everyone's gender self- identity and refer to everyone with the name and pronoun they prefer. If you don't know, ask politely. Let them know you are not trying to offend but want to show respect.
- If a person comes out as transgender to you, or tells you they are going through a gender transition ask them what you can do to make them comfortable. Let them know you will support them. There is a good chance they will be subjected to stares, uncertainty and exclusion from other employees. Include transgender issues in your diversity training. Don't leave it up to the transgender person to educate co-workers.
- Respect confidentiality, and do not try to get an LGBT person to come up. They will decide if and when they are ready. The fact that they confided in you shows that they trust and respect you.
- Attend and support LGBT community events and don't send only LGBT people as your representatives. Often people break past their biases by having direct positive contact with someone who is different than them.
- Be sure and include your policies and expected behavior supporting diversity and specifically LGBT employees in orientation programs for new hires.
- Listen with an open mind and don't be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes. It's the best way to learn.