Beyond Rainbow-Washing: Building Equitable Workplaces for LGBTQ+ Staff
By Guest Writer
Because it’s second nature to model a work environment from a cis-hetero perspective, many organizations face a lack of understanding and depth when trying to cultivate working conditions that are not only equitable but comfortable for their LGBTQ+ employees. It’s crucial, however, to current and potential LGBTQ+ talent’s well-being, and even an organization’s bottom line, that we recognize and overcome these challenges. We believe there are a few ways organizations can help alleviate the added burden of navigating a professional environment catered to a cis-gendered norm and provide a workspace where LGBTQ+ staff are able to thrive by being their authentic selves.
Why Inclusivity Matters
Problems may be brewing beneath the surface if your organization isn’t striving to be a better workplace for your LGBTQ+ staff. While many organizations make attempts at shaping a better work environment, few can understand what their queer employees experience daily.
According to LinkedIn, 34% of LGBTQ+ staff members prefer remote work because it alleviates the stress of needing to share their identity in the workplace, and 33% of LGBTQ+ professionals consistently expend energy to hide or protect their identity at work. LGBTQ+ workers of color specifically experience staggering volumes of discrimination, with 95% of workers reporting discrimination that has affected their psychological well-being. Roughly 88% of white LGBTQ+ folk experienced the same challenge.
75% of LGBTQ+ professionals feel strongly that working at a company where they can be themselves is vital to them. If your organization is not actively working to create a more inclusive and equitable environment, it may be at risk of losing highly valued talent that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Don’t “Rainbow-Wash” Your Support
Many organizations loudly and proudly support the LGBTQ+ community during LGBTQ+ Pride Month. While sharing rainbow-colored graphics on social media has become a general baseline for organizations wishing to showcase how inclusive their business is, it is important an organization’s efforts are backed up by genuine, meaningful actions to institute equity amongst their queer staff members. Otherwise, they are merely “rainbow washing” their image to appeal to LGBTQ+ community members and their allies instead of making a difference for their LGBTQ+ staff. It’s important to show support and solidarity, but we cannot stop there.
Organizations often prioritize inclusivity when making business-critical decisions about recruitment or marketing. However, they often make the mistake of not addressing the standards they’ve set for current LGBTQ+ staff members, oftentimes doing very little in actuality to help queer staff by not standardizing equitable steps for inclusion or safety. Some may address the issue of discrimination by building non-discrimination policies based on gender and sexuality, and even though that step may make some employees feel safer at work, these do little to address inequitable systemic practices that queer employees face every day.
How to Take Action
Edgility suggests emphasizing equity over optics. Benefits packages that address LGBTQ+ specific needs are an absolute baseline for all businesses hoping to create an equitable environment for their queer staff. 49% of LGBTQ+ professionals won’t work at a company that doesn’t consider them when choosing employee benefits. These benefits should explicitly include same and different-sex partner benefits, trans-inclusive benefits, and mental health support. Benefits should also be extended to the children of staff members, who may need gender-affirming care, counseling services, or even the ability to seek a primary care physician who understands the importance of supporting trans, non-binary and genderqueer children.
Be open and upfront about your inclusive benefits packages, and make sure that all of these options are highlighted for all staff members regardless of their perceived sexual orientation or gender. We all know that navigating the United States healthcare system is no walk in the park, but it is often disproportionately more difficult for LGBTQ+ staff members when their options are unclear. Even when offering these benefits, it’s important to keep in mind that LGBTQ+ people often have to do additional work to find professionals or medical facilities that are queer-friendly. This is why we also recommend that you offer a resource guide for staff members to look to when searching for any kind of health support.
Don’t leave it up to your queer staff members to guess how, when or if it is appropriate to share their pronouns. Organizations should encourage asking for or offering pronouns and using gender-neutral greetings like “hello all” or “they” and “them” when addressing groups of people. Regardless of how you may perceive gender, it is important to never assume someone’s gender or sexual identity. Additionally, organizations can send a vital message to potential employees at the recruiting stage to show that you respect their gender identity and expression by providing space on applications for prospective candidates to declare their preferred name and the pronouns they use.
Anti-discrimination policies are a good place to start, but organizations often neglect to provide guidance for interpersonal relationship building, which can cause challenges in a manager/direct report relationship. It is important to provide clear written guidelines and resources to establish best practices in transgender inclusion which should also include guidance for supporting gender transition or pronoun changes.
We encourage you to take your support a step further by enacting a policy that prohibits the support of organizations with an explicit policy or history of discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people. To truly be an ally, we need to be thoughtful about where we place support outside of our organizations and what partners we collaborate with. If you are not mindful of your organization’s relationships, you could partner with or support companies that may compromise the equity work you have done. This could have detrimental effects on the safety and mental health of queer staff and community members.
Let’s Talk About the Other Benefits
If we’re just focusing on the business side of things, it’s important to note that inclusivity boosts business outcomes. LGBTQ+ inclusive work environments tend to lead to better performance, retention, productivity, and well-being for employees, and they attract top talent. Younger generations actively seek employers who incorporate pronoun practices in their values. Furthermore, most Americans support gender inclusivity in the workplace, with many saying that misusing a co-worker’s pronoun or chosen name is a form of workplace harassment.
A more inclusive and equitable work environment can also reduce depression and improve self-esteem for LGBTQ+ workers, and added support from an employer can even save lives – supportive co-workers and work environments have been shown to reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts in transgender individuals.
It’s normal for an organization to feel a little lost when institutionalizing more equitable business practices. Improving equity and inclusivity for LGBTQ+ employees is a worthwhile investment, and it is one your organization should focus on to keep and acquire LGBTQ+ talent and stay competitive in a workforce that celebrates inclusivity and diversity.