Shining an inclusive light on LGBTQ+  

Diversity at the workplace goes beyond hiring people with different characteristics; it’s about ensuring everyone feels welcome, safe and accepted. Diversity thus focuses on each one of us and the many ways we are different based on our physical or personal characteristics. Inclusion focuses on how society and business foster an environment of acceptance and appreciation. In such an inclusive work environment diverse employees can openly share their experiences, speak their minds and feeling because they count as both individuals and professionals. It is crucial to realise that while diversity cannot be managed, inclusion can -- through fostering a certain type of environment.  

To be truly inclusive, every diversity dimension must be taken into consideration. The reality is that diversity dimensions are often not treated equally  with markers such as race, gender and disability receiving much more attention.  As a result, diversity focus areas such as LGBTQ+ often do not receive the attention it should. 

 LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning. These terms are used to describe a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It may be used to refer to anyone who is non-heterosexual or non-cisgender, instead of exclusively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

 

  • LESBIAN: A woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay or as gay women.

  • GAY: The adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex. Sometimes lesbian is the preferred term for women.

  • BISEXUAL: A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender. People may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime. Bisexual people need not have had specific sexual experiences to be bisexual; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all to identify as bisexual.

  • TRANSGENDER: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms— including transgender. Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures.

  • QUEER: An adjective used by some people, particularly younger people, whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual. Typically, for those who identify as queer, the terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual are perceived to be too limiting and/or fraught with cultural connotations they feel don’t apply to them. Some people may use queer, or more commonly genderqueer, to describe their gender identity and/or gender expression. Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBT people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBT community.

  • QUESTIONING: Sometimes, when the Q is seen at the end of LGBT, it can also mean questioning. This term describes someone who is questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

While some progress has been made in acknowledging and addressing this focus area within organisational settings, most corporates are still (1) unclear about the business benefit (case) of  LGBTQ+, and (2) how businesses can support and create an accepting and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Including LGBTQ+ is a long-term commitment, especially because of the innumerable prejudices that different cultures have developed about sexual orientation and gender identities. This is where business policies, regulations and training interventions can play a decisive role. It’s crucial to speak up when inclusion in business falls short. The principle is that we need to realise that we shouldn’t impose our beliefs onto others.  Any organisational culture sticks to the business’ collective memory, and attempts to change it are a long-term job. It is nearly impossible to accelerate the pace of cultural change in any business. Aiming at a work environment where including diversity goes beyond tolerance, acceptance and respect is, to us, the ultimate goal.

Some practical strategies to encourage LGBTQ+ talent in the workplace are as follows: 

 

  1. Set the right tone from the top and engage CEOs: While speaking out still carries risks in some parts of the world, in others there’s a business risk not to speak out on inclusion. Personal experiences, family, friends and colleagues shaped their LGBTQ+ advocacy. “Reverse mentoring” by LGBTQ+ employees within a company might be the solution to help leaders gain a better understanding of the colleagues’ experiences and their challenges. It’s also essential to highlight the importance of positioning inclusion as a business issue that’s fully aligned with the business objectives.

  2. Create clear pathways for career progression: To create clear career paths for LGBTQ+ employees, businesses need to regularly monitor and review data on LGBTQ+ talent at each stage of the talent pipeline. By doing so, they can identify the issues most in need of tackling, such as image and career development. 

  3. Stand up and advocate for equality: More than 90% of employees surveyed believe that it’s important for their company to be visibly engaged in LGBTQ+ equality, and to leverage its reach to advance LGBTQ+ rights. Similarly, nearly 90% of employees see the sponsorship of LGBTQ+ organisations as important in creating an inclusive culture. Advocacy and active engagement should include awareness of the barriers that may hold LGBTQ+ employees back and active intervention to tackle them. It should also include awareness of the socio-political environment for LGBTQ+ people in the places where companies do business, some of which may have high discrimination levels. By showing LGBTQ+ talent and their friends and family that businesses are supportive is a clear signal that your commitment to inclusion is genuine and deep-rooted.

  4. Build and empower ally networks: LGBTQ+ networks can help create a more inclusive environment by fostering engagement, advocacy and communication. For example, if an employee finds that they’re the only LGBTQ+ person on their team, it’s reassuring to know that they have allies around them. Knowing colleagues would be supportive to them is the factor that participants cited as the most important in encouraging them to come out within their organisation

  5. Create inclusive communications: Communications should be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people internally and externally. More than three-quarters of employees see advertising/marketing to the LGBTQ+ community as important in creating an inclusive culture. However, many companies talk about diversity and inclusion, but don’t always take sufficient concrete actions. A possible starting point is seeking to be neutral in areas such as not assuming couples or parents are necessarily male and female. Many companies have gone further with great success by embarking on a full review of the language used in all their documents, policies, and advertising and marketing materials globally. Ultimately, inclusive communication is about understanding, authenticity, and giving people a voice, which requires engagement and dialogue.

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