If you're overlooking the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community in your workforce and marketing efforts, you might want to rethink your practices.
"Strategic leaders now recognize that LGBTQIA diversity and inclusion in the workplace offer a competitive opportunity," says Sara Jones, president of InclusionPro. The company works with business leaders on diversity and inclusion and provides tools for building inclusive work cultures.
"The LGBTQIA community is reaching a critical point in consumer spending and is now recognized as a significant market," adds LaShana Lewis, CEO and founder of L.M. Lewis Consulting, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm. "It's beneficial to have a workforce that reflects that consumer base."
Benefits of Creating a Workforce Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion
Creating a diverse workforce that embraces inclusion in terms of the LGBTQIA community has the potential for making your company more competitive.
"The LGBTQIA community offers unique perspectives for problem solving," says Jones. "For example, they often identify areas where the company has viewed a solution too narrowly and help improve solutions in a much broader way."
Murray Seward, CEO of Outback Team Building & Training, agrees.
"A diverse workforce consists of unique individuals from many walks of life. Each team member brings different perspectives and experiences," Seward says. "Although it may seem that these contrasting personalities would clash, a diverse team enables faster problem-solving and better decision-making, which delivers better results."
Employing team members from various walks of life can also help your company reach diverse customers, adds Seward.
"If a team member identifies as part of the LGBTQIA community," he says, "he or she can bridge communication gaps with that audience."
Focusing on diversity and inclusion also helps ensure that you stay on the cutting edge, believes Sean Pour, co-founder of SellMax, a car buying service that focuses on hiring a diverse workforce, including the LGBTQIA community.
"When we get a room full of individuals with varying backgrounds, our ideas end up looking more in line with what most people will want," says Pour. "If everyone in your company is similar in background, ethnicity, gender, race or sexual orientation, you end up with a lot of the same ideas."
How to Foster LGBTQIA Inclusion in the Office
For members of the LGBTQIA community to feel comfortable enough to express their opinions, it's important that diversity and inclusion be a part of your company culture.
"High employee engagement is directly correlated with how welcome and included team members are in their day-to-day work," says Jones. "If LGBTQIA members feel worried about other's perceptions, or [feel] emotionally unsafe, they may be less willing to speak up and contribute ideas."
There are a number of ways to foster diversity and inclusion for LGBTQIA employees.
1. Provide diversity training.
"Company-wide training can help employees understand how to build a psychologically safe space for all team members to succeed," says Jones. "Provide safe spaces for employees to learn more about the LGBTQIA community in order to break down stereotypes and misconceptions."
In addition to educating current employees about the LGBTQIA community, consider adding the training to the onboarding process, suggests Ronni Zehavi, CEO of Hibob, an employee management platform.
"HR leaders can turn sensitivity training into a form of diversity coaching that offers a curriculum that surpasses the standard 'harassment is wrong, don't do it' instruction," says Zehavi.
Another option Zehavi suggests is speaking privately with LGBTQIA-identifying employees to see if they feel comfortable opening up to their coworkers about their own personal journeys.
"The goal is to create a sense of compassion in your workplace that lasts long-term," he says.
2. Focus on inclusive policies.
A written policy about inclusion and diversity is a good start.
"To cultivate an environment that knows no gender boundaries, we include rules against discrimination in our employee handbook," says Alisha Murray Lawson, managing director for Shiny Leaf, a cosmetics company that employees members of the LGBTQIA community.
"Every employee gets a copy of the handbook and is required to attend a first-day orientation where the handbook is explicitly discussed," says Lawson.
Additionally, Lawson notes the importance of ensuring that your human resources team is aware of the particular needs of LGBTQIA employees.
"Your HR team must be open to listen whenever employees have issues about discrimination and possess knowledge regarding the sensitivities that come with this, such as when to call someone a 'he' or a 'she,' " says Lawson.
It's also a good idea to carefully review your benefits, advises Charna Parkey, VP of customer success at Textio, an AI program that augments writing.
"Make sure that your company is supporting unique LGBTQIA health considerations and that your insurance covers a list of providers that are LGBTQIA friendly," Parkey says.
Opening up and coming out to coworkers, especially managers, can be nerve-racking. [Offering] counseling and support in times of crisis or confrontation can be more than beneficial to your employees; it can be lifesaving.
—Ronni Zehavi, CEO, Hibob
3. Form an inclusion and diversity initiative.
An initiative can make diversity and inclusion of LGBTQIA team members a priority and even amplify their contributions in the workplace.
"HR can enlist a collective committee or task force of employees with a manager at the helm, dedicated to prioritizing diversity and inclusion within the company," says Zehavi. "This is a great permanent strategy that promotes inclusion by design."
According to Zehavi, such a group can actively inspire a healthy company culture that advocates for equal opportunity employment and hiring practices, ensuring job accessibility to all LGBTQIA community members.
"Awareness activities, communication protocol and company-wide events that guide workplace inclusivity can be logistically curated by company leaders and the HR department," says Zehavi.
For an initiative to be effective and successful, it's important that senior executives and management are on board and involved in LGBTQIA initiatives, believes Lewis.
"Many initiatives die out when there isn't an advocate at the top helping to move it along," she says.
To ensure that an initiative is successful, it's also important to keep track of the results, advises Jeannie Parsch Sanders, owner and president of the Practice of Positivity Corporation, which offers leadership training.
"Show how an employee diversity and inclusion initiative is positively affecting the overall company," says Sanders. "Positive results demonstrate value, and that drives support of the LGBTQIA community."
4. Ensure that the company's brand presence projects acceptance.
"Make sure that your company website, social media and corporate partnerships illustrate an accepting and inclusive brand experience," says Rebecca Cenni-Levanthal, CEO and founder of Atrium, a staffing and employment agency.
"Re-analyze your job postings to ensure that gendered language is eliminated. This way, gender-nonconforming individuals don't feel left out or otherwise excluded," says Cenni-Levanthal. "Make inclusion part of your brand and kindness your mission."
Also take the time to understand how your job posts and brand might be deterring LGBTQIA candidates, advises Parkey.
"Be sure to ask for pronouns as a part of the job application process. However, don't collect data about someone's orientation and use it in a different way than you originally disclosed," she says.
5. Make gender a non-issue.
"Remove gender from the equation with your dress codes," suggests Lewis. "Focus more on the item of clothing, as opposed to what an assigned gender is 'supposed' to wear."
Additionally, in your company policies, add adoption/parental leave for all parents, regardless of gender.
6. Provide support services.
"Opening up and coming out to coworkers, especially managers, can be nerve-racking," says Zehavi. "LGBTQIA employees often feel as if they'll be discriminated against, professionally and socially. [Offering] counseling and support in times of crisis or confrontation can be more than beneficial to your employees; it can be lifesaving."
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