A little respect
Is your business LGBTQ+ inclusive? If not, why not?
When I say ‘LGBTQ+ inclusive’, I don’t mean sponsoring a Pride float or hanging a few rainbow flags. LGBTQ+ inclusivity is an ethos that runs through a business, letting employees know they are valued for who they are.
I work with many organisations whose diversity and inclusion goal is to be in the Stonewall Top 100 or head up their sector on the Workplace Equality Index (WEI). To me, though, LGBTQ+ inclusivity is about the journey. Accolades are great for your branding, but often it’s about the privileged few patting each other on the back at awards dinners. Let’s get back to the journey; here’s what your organisation can do right now to be more inclusive.
Create your ‘why’
Treating people with respect doesn’t always have a financial return, but it pays in other ways. Happy employees are loyal; inclusion creates a sense of belonging, and this drives commitment. We have heard the expression ‘bring your whole self to work’ – we want employees to be open about who they are, not hide behind a fake persona. This is something shareholders and company boards are starting to realise.
Create your vision
Make sure everyone is focused on the same objectives, embedding KPIs and targets from top to bottom. Don’t forget about intersectionality: the way different systems of power (gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, class, and so on) overlap and affect people in different ways. Diversity and inclusion are all about respecting someone’s characteristics holistically, and remembering who holds the privilege. In the West, privileged people are generally cisgender (not transgender), straight, white and male.
Create a culture of respect
When we try to group people, we inevitably oversimplify. Not all heterosexual people are the same – so why do we focus on LGBTQ+ inclusion strategies as if one size fits all? LGBTQ+ people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, northern, southern, black, white, Asian, single, married, young, old, disabled, non-disabled, pregnant, not pregnant… and we haven’t even mentioned wealth, education, hobbies and so on. Each person has their own identity. We don’t always need to understand exactly what this means – we just need to respect that it is important to them.
Understand that language evolves
Language is important to everyone. ‘Queer’ was once a slur, but has now been reclaimed by many LGBTQ+ individuals (‘I’m queer, get over it!’). On the other hand, words such as ‘transsexual’, ‘transvestite’ or ‘T-girl’, while still used in some circles, now send shivers down many spines.
For trans individuals, language is very important and conveys respect. They may have an ‘old’ name, from before they transitioned, but that is not your business. Respect their pronouns. If you are confused because the way someone looks doesn’t match your idea of what a man or woman looks like, ask how they prefer to be addressed – don’t assume. And let’s leave language such as ‘sir’, ‘madam’ and ‘ladies and gentlemen’ in the past – it excludes those who identify as non-binary.
Be an ally and advocate
Ensure you have the knowledge and ability to stand up and support someone. Develop ally programmes, and make this part of your learning and development plans – don’t just hand out rainbow lanyards. Allyship lets LGBTQ+ people know that if there is any unpleasant ‘office banter’, someone will speak up on their behalf to stamp out bullying. Organisations need allies at all levels, especially at board and senior leadership.
A great ally is someone who does this without needing to be recognised – it is not about badge collecting. A great ally takes time to educate themself and doesn’t treat people as encyclopaedias that they can flick through when they feel the need.
Listen to LGBTQ+ people; respect their identities; learn and educate yourself; and act as an advocate, stand up for people when they are unable to do so.
Joanne Lockwood FRSA is founder and CEO of SEE Change Happen, which specialises in providing transgender awareness and support to organisations.