How to Create an LGBT Inclusive Workplace

The Advantages of Inclusion

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues have come to the forefront of social consciousness, but many businesses seem to be lagging when it comes to creating a truly inclusive workplace. Discrimination barriers may have been broken down in many instances, yet there are still issues remaining.

How to Create an LGBT Inclusive Workplace

Often the problem is that coworkers of LGBT employees simply haven’t been trained on inclusion and how to create a workplace that’s inviting for everyone. Businesses may not see the advantages in investing in this training, but creating a supportive environment isn’t just about making people feel good—there’s a strong business case component as well.

A study conducted by the UK-based Stonewall showed a positive link between workplace environment and the productivity of gay employees. Respondents said when they felt like they were supported at their workplace they were more motivated.

Stonewall said the following:

“Concealing sexual orientation at work reduces productivity by up to 30 percent.”

Catalyst, a US-based company, found similar things to be true. Research showed that companies with employee networks and support programs had anywhere from 7 to 16 percent higher experience scores. Employees who feel as if they work in an inclusive environment also show stronger loyalty and retention. Younger workers and Millennials tend to favor inclusive work environments for everyone, even if they’re not part of the LGBT community, so building a positive work environment can help retain your entire workforce.

The gay and lesbian population are crucial consumers as well, and they often display the greatest level of brand loyalty to those organizations that openly strive to be inclusive.

Despite the advantages of inclusion in the workplace, research shows many employees feel the need to remain closeted in their place of work. Almost 2/3 of these employees report having heard lesbian and gay jokes in the workplace, and 40% say they have heard jokes aimed at transgender individuals. 31% of closeted employees say they don’t come out for fear of losing colleague connections, and 23% say they’re afraid they might not be offered development opportunities.

Top Companies for LGBT Employees

Companies that make substantial efforts to embrace all employees, including those from the LGBT community, often receive favorable publicity and a strengthened employee brand as a result.

Some of the companies that have earned positive attention for their efforts include Bain & Company, Orbitz, Google, McKinsey & Companie and Apple.

Bain has the Bain GLBT Association for Diversity (BGLAD), which has been maintained for over 10 years. BGLAD is designed to deliver a strong, unified diversity message through recruiting, open communication and overall awareness of GLBT issues. BGLAD is also a program through which Bain holds information, communication, training, and mentoring events throughout the year. At Google, there are training and awareness efforts put in place to eliminate bias through programs like the Unconscious Bias @ Work workshop.

The Cost of Non-Inclusiveness

As well as inclusion having substantial business advantages, there are also big disadvantages to failing to maintain an inclusive work environment. It’s estimated businesses lose $64 billion a year as a result of more than two million American employees who leave positions because of what they see as inequality and discrimination.

American Progress cites a study in which 42 percent of gay people say they’ve experienced some kind of employment discrimination during their lifetime, and this number soars much higher for transgender workers, 90 percent of whom say they’ve faced some discrimination or harassment at their job.

Along with issues like high turnover and lost productivity, a non-inclusive workplace can lead to litigation. American Progress continued to report that in 2010 the top 10 private plaintiff discrimination lawsuits cost nearly $350 million for businesses.

So how do companies foster a more inclusive environment?

LGBT Employee Training

Education and training are undeniably the best routes to creating an LGBT-friendly work environment. So many employees aren’t aware of things they may be saying or inadvertently doing that may cause gay and transgender employees to feel uncomfortable, and the responsibility for changing these thoughts and misconceptions is on the shoulders of employers if they want to maximize their workforce and create a more productive environment.

  • Make LGBT training a separate venture from other types of training. LGBT issues and concerns are unique, and rather than including them as part of a larger discrimination or sexual harassment training session, train employees separately here.
  • Ensure training outlines and highlights what constitutes harassment. Your employees may truly not understand that a certain joke or question could be taken as harassment. In your LGBT training, explore the gray areas that are frequently misunderstood by employees. Employees may recognize it’s not okay to directly insult someone’s sexual orientation, but they may not get the ramifications of something said in jest.
  • Supervisor training is essential. Much like sexual harassment training, supervisors are perhaps the most needing of LGBT training. Your supervisors are the people who are leading and managing other employees, and also need to be trained to be the eyes and ears of the organization to spot any potential harassment or discrimination red flags, so training for these people needs to be extremely thorough.
  • Train on consequences. This can be particularly important for supervisors and business leaders who might not otherwise see the financial case for an inclusive work environment. Make sure that not only the what-to-do and what-not-to-dos are covered, but also that you demonstrate a link between a non-inclusive work environment and monetary consequences.
  • Include real-life stories. If you have gay or lesbian employees who’d like to share their stories in training, you can create videos, which tend to have the most impact. You can also let employees remain anonymous but create true-to-life case studies to include in training.
  • When creating LGBT training, it’s a good idea to consult with a subject matter expert. These topics can be sensitive and need to be handled in the right way, which is why an SME can be a tremendous asset. You can also pair with local or even national LGBT service organizations to guide training creation.

As companies strive to attract and retain top talent, LGBT training and an inclusive environment are absolute priorities. Make this year the year you vow to develop e-Learning that focuses on LGBT issues and is part of the process to strengthen your employer brand, your employee satisifaction, and your overall competitiveness.

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