How to Advocate for LGBTQ Rights in Your Workplace
Although many companies around the world have made progress on LGBTQ rights in the workplace, there’s still a long, long way to go.
One in five lesbian, gay and bi employees have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service users because of their sexual orientation in the last five years, according to UK advocacy group Stonewall. And one in eight of them would not feel confident reporting homophobic bullying in their workplace.
Do you want to be involved in improving this situation and making your workplace a safer place for all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity?
In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to advocate for LGBTQ rights in your workplace. We’ll cover things like building a network, creating policies, getting management buy-in, setting up training, and more.
This article is in support of Spirit Day, a day on which people around the world stand up in support of LGBTQ youth and against bullying and discrimination. Last year, we published a guide to how your business can support Spirit Day. This year, we’re focusing on LGBTQ rights in the workplace in recognition that the fight for LGBTQ equality is broad and multi-faceted. Here are some of the statistics on why Spirit Day is important:
The bullies who harass and abuse their LGBTQ classmates are learning that behaviour from the adults around them and from intolerance in the broader society. And they’re then entering the workforce and repeating the same behaviour. If we can build more inclusive and respectful workplaces, we can help to build a more inclusive and respectful society overall.
If you’re still not sure why your business should support Spirit Day or LGBTQ equality, read last year’s article for a full breakdown:
Now let’s look at what you can do to be an advocate or ally of LGBTQ people and their rights in the workplace.
1. Build a Network
Does your company have a network for LGBTQ employees and allies? If it does, the first thing you should do is join it and get involved in its activities. There’s strength in numbers, and many of the steps we’ll talk about in this tutorial are much easier to take when you’ve got others at your side.
If you don’t have such a network, why not set one up? If you work for a small company, the process will probably be quite informal—you can just reach out to other employees and look for volunteers to help you run the network and its activities.
You’ll need a core group of active members who can commit some time to the network, and from there you can broaden it out to a wider membership of people who may have different levels of engagement and commitment.
If you work for a larger company, there may be a more formal process to go through, and you’ll have to check with HR about the process for setting up a group. As the group gets larger, too, you’ll need things like a constitution, a governance structure, and a process for elections to the committee.
No matter the size of your company, you’ll also need to take account of the wider context of LGBTQ rights at the firm and in society. If you’re in a country where LGBTQ rights aren’t protected or where employees may face discrimination for being open about their sexual orientation, you may need to take steps to protect your members by keeping their data secure and communicating privately using non-company email.
To get an idea of what an employee network can do, see this list of examples. For example, check out PwC’s network, GLEE@PwC, which supports local charities, marches at London Pride, arranges for members to run workshops at schools, and more.
2. Create Policies
Creating inclusive policies for your company is also an important step to take in supporting LGBTQ equality. Historically, LGBTQ people have been excluded from many of the rights that other workers take for granted, so it’s important to state specifically that your company supports LGBTQ rights.
The first step is to have a clear policy stating that discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender expression won’t be tolerated. The policy should give details on what constitutes discrimination and harassment and give employees a clear procedure to report any problems they encounter.
You can find out more about that in this tutorial:
But you can also go further than a non-discrimination policy. Look through all of your company policies and see if they’re inclusive. For example, do your company benefits apply to same-sex partnerships? And, just as important, is that made completely clear in the way they’re worded?
Until recently, some of Envato’s company policies stated that they applied to partners, but didn’t specifically mention same-sex partners. After a recent training session run by Pride in Diversity, Envato’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisor Rebecca Covington realised that the company’s support for same-sex partners needed to be stated explicitly. She says:
“It was a huge lightbulb moment for me. I was thinking, ‘Of course you’re included.’ But you have to go out of your way to show it. Unless it’s specifically stated in a policy that they’re included, people in the LGBTI community will tend to assume they’re excluded.”
3. Support Events
Events like Spirit Day can be a great opportunity to raise awareness of the struggle for LGBTI equality among employees as a whole.
You can run special events, raise funds for good causes, run education campaigns, or a range of other things—you can find more ideas in last year’s Spirit Day tutorial.
Beyond Spirit Day, look for other events taking place in your country, such as Pride Week or other local events, mark them on your calendar, and plan to get involved.
Sometimes, a simple, highly visible campaign can be very effective in showing support and getting lots of people involved. For example, here’s an image of Envato employees marking Wear It Purple Day earlier this year.
4. Get Senior Management Support
If you want to push through changes at your company, you’ll need to reach out to senior managers for support. You can accomplish a lot by mobilising employees of any level to get involved, but for things like changing company-wide policies, you’ll need senior-level buy-in.
If you can enlist the CEO or some top executives as allies, it’ll be much easier to make positive changes at your company, and they’ll also be able to use their considerable reach within the organisation to broadcast the message of LGBTQ equality much more widely than would otherwise be possible.
So how do you get their attention and support? The best way is to put together a solid proposal that explains, clearly and succinctly, what your objectives are and why it’s good for the business to support LGBTQ equality.
If the company has a values statement, refer to it to show how supporting the rights of LGBTQ employees is consistent with those values. Then go on to put the business case for making a strong statement of support for the LGBTQ community. There are plenty of resources out there, from our own article on the business benefits of promoting diversity to the research by Workplace Pride showing that, among other things:
Having LGBT-supportive policies in the workplace reduces discrimination, and this is associated with better psychological health and increased job satisfaction among LGBTI employees.
LGBTI employees report more satisfaction with their jobs when covered by LGBT-supportive policies and working in positive climates.
In supportive environments, LGBTI employees have better relationships with their co-workers and supervisors and are more engaged in the workplace.
The costs of supporting LGBT rights are negligible, and will probably be outweighed by the benefits from increased productivity and job satisfaction.
LGBT-inclusive diversity practices can attract new customers and employees.
When you’ve shown senior managers both the moral case and the business case for doing the right thing, you’ll have a great chance of getting them to sign up!
5. Join LGBTQ Organisations
We’ve already talked about the benefits of an in-house LGBTQ network, and the principle extends beyond the company too. Many countries have non-profit organisations advocating for LGBTQ workplace inclusion, and by joining them, your company gets access to a lot of useful resources.
For example, in Australia, Envato is a member of Pride in Diversity. As part of the annual membership, the company gets access to a huge library of training materials, receives on-site training sessions, and gets dedicated phone and email support for issues that may come up through the year.
“Find an organisation in your country that’s there to support the LGBTI community and work with them because they’ve got the tools.” — Rebecca Covington, Envato’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisor.
For example, the company consulted with Pride in Diversity to improve its job application form after receiving feedback that its previous gender categories of “male/female/other” were not very welcoming to people who identified as non-binary. Pride in Diversity provided a range of examples of how to ask the question in a more respectful, inclusive way, if it needs to be asked at all.
So look for a similar organisation in your country, and make the case for your company to join it. Here’s a list of LGBT rights organisations around the world to get you started.
6. Set Up Training
Company-wide training programs can help educate employees and managers on how to be more inclusive and can lead to positive changes.
As I mentioned in the last section, Envato gets free training sessions as part of its Pride in Diversity membership. This year, the company ran three separate sessions:
The importance of LGBTI Inclusion in the workplace
LGBTI Awareness Training
How to be an LGBTI Ally
The participants gave great feedback on the sessions, and they led to some solid outcomes for the people involved.
“People got a lot out of the section on speaking up—learning how to speak up when someone has said something inappropriate,” says Covington. “And the business case for LGBTI inclusion helped to connect people to the importance of being inclusive.”
So if your company is a member of an organisation that provides training, be sure to take full advantage and encourage as many employees as possible to sign up. If not, look for other training providers. You can find more on arranging training in these tutorials:
As with any initiative, it’s important to set goals and hold yourself and the company accountable. The business should produce reports and updates on at least an annual basis, and preferably more frequently, to measure progress and keep everyone updated.
Transparency is important to ensure that everyone knows the subject is being taken seriously and progress is being made—or, if progress is stalled on a particular initiative, at least people understand the reasons for that.
Try to carve out a section of the company intranet to keep people informed. Or set up a channel on Slack or whatever communication tools your company uses, and encourage people to get involved and ask questions. The more involvement and engagement, the better!
In this tutorial, you’ve learned how to become an advocate for LGBTQ rights in the workplace. We started with building a network, and then we looked at how to create inclusive policies, get senior management buy-in, join organisations to access training and other resources, and more.
This is a big topic, so please refer to these resources to learn more:
Also, don’t forget that you can get started right now by doing something in your workplace to mark Spirit Day and show that you stand alongside LGBTQ youth in their struggle for that most simple of rights: the right to go through their childhood without being persecuted for being who they are.