If I’ve learned anything from years of HR classes and training, it’s that people perform better when they can be themselves. Each of us is a unique individual, with a rich background and unique experiences that shape us and our perspectives. Those varying voices and perspectives are critical to a successful and profitable business.
As a member of the LGBTQ+* community, I feel fortunate to work for an organization where I can bring my full and authentic self to work every day. I am comfortable sharing details about myself and my family with my colleagues, having my wedding photo on my desktop, and celebrating important milestones in my life with my work family safely and happily. The sad truth is that not everyone is able to bring their authentic self to their place of work or experience a welcoming environment. This can make team members feel isolated and scared and be a major contributing factor to poor productivity. That’s right – it can affect your bottom line.
I once heard an analogy about diversity designed to showcase the importance of different perspectives. It has to do with looking at a building from street level: No matter what your angle, you as one individual can only see two sides at a time. There is no place to stand that allows you a full and complete picture of the whole building. To see the entire building at the same time, you need to collaborate with someone else, allowing multiple perspectives to build upon each other and unveil the building as a whole.
What a wonderful analogy for business! For every problem, idea, concept, workflow, and opportunity, there are different perspectives – different blind spots. That’s why workforce diversity is so critical and positive. It’s crucial not only for team members but remember, at law firms, we work with the public, that diverse crowd of people whose shoes we must place ourselves into to serve them best. We can do so most effectively by employing a diverse workforce and ensuring everyone’s voices are heard. Representation matters because it helps us understand and appreciate other perspectives. It broadens our worldview.
As we approach the end of Pride month, it’s the perfect time to discuss how you as an employer can better support your LQBTQ+ team members and have a safe, comfortable, and inclusive workplace.
Inclusive policies should be set and enforced
This is a fundamental step in having an LGBTQ+ friendly workplace. Address it in your handbook! Ensure you have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity. By the way, if you’re not a part of the LGBTQ+ community, you may not realize the importance of using the term, “sexual orientation” vs. the term, “sexual preference”. “Sexual preference” is considered a dated and offensive term that reinforces a harmful view of sexuality as a choice. Review your policies and cut out that dated language.
Too, read through other handbook policies. Does your company dress code reinforce gender norms? If so, modify it to ensure that your team members embody your firm’s professional image and brand while removing gender-specific language. This allows team members to come to work and feel comfortable and authentic. That promotes a positive and inclusive work space and helps encourage loyalty, dedication, and commitment amongst your team members. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation suggests some gender-neutral dress code language like:
- Employees may wear earrings no more than two inches in length or diameter.
- Employees must wear a suit to meetings with clients.
Take a look at how your benefits are described. Is there inclusive language in your health insurance applications and other paperwork? My wife has been listed as my husband on health insurance documents, requiring a phone call and a change simply because the application paperwork made assumptions based on my entered information! If these things are not on your radar, you may not realize how heteronormative your handbook, paperwork, and policies may be. Again, consider different perspectives in order to broaden or embrace new policies that make for a healthier, more inclusive environment.
You’ll notice this section was intentionally titled. It’s critical to not just set policies, but to enforce them. Workplaces are not safe and inclusive if anti-discrimination policies are not enforced. It’s not enough to check the box that the paragraph is listed in the handbook. Creating a safe and inclusive workspace means that you address discrimination when it happens.
Train Train Train!
You may have heard this Vista fundamental phrase: Tools, Training, and Expectations. We believe these three things are crucial for team members to succeed. You’ve set your policies and ensured they are inclusive. Now it’s time to train. Training can help ensure that discomfort or preconceived notions do not lead to discrimination and help all team members treat each other with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Diversity training can be incredibly impactful for your team. If you expect all team members to sit down and read your well-crafted policies and understand fully the meaning and intention behind them, have I got a timeshare for you! Training ensures that the heart of the policies you have worked so hard to create are understood by your team. The training can also help team members understand why rights and diversity are important.
You may have heard this OTHER Vista fundamental phrase: Words matter. We believe the language we use is important. This extends to your LGBTQ+ team members as well. You can make all team members feel welcome and included by simply shifting your language to gender neutral terms. This comes with practice. I am a part of the LGBTQ+ community and still have to intentionally force myself to not say, “hi guys” in mixed company! It gets easier as you practice and become aware of it. Small changes make a big difference here.
- Instead of, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen”, say “Welcome, everyone”.
- Instead of “he or she”, try “they”.
- Instead of “hi guys”, try, “hi all!”
One easy way to use your words to support your team members is to normalize sharing and asking about pronouns. I recently attended a conference where the speaker began with, “My name is SOANDSO, and my pronouns are she/her.” By introducing herself that way, she created a safe space for others to say their preferred pronouns. As a member of the community or as an ally, this is an easy way to normalize pronoun usage. You can include your pronouns in your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website bio, and in face-to-face conversation. You can even begin meetings by sharing your name and pronouns. It should go without saying, but once someone shares their pronouns, respect them!
Be an ally
One way you can respect and support your LGBTQ+ coworkers as a colleague is by using your voice to ensure that all team members experience a respectful and inclusive workplace. If you hear someone misgender a team member, kindly and respectfully remind them of the correct pronouns or name to use or alert the person at the firm who handles Human Resources. If you hear an offensive or derogatory term, ask that language like that not be used in the future or alert HR.
Every single one of us has biases, some of which we are aware of and some of which are unconscious. They get formed through our lived experiences and through our relationships. It’s important that we acknowledge our biases and try to look at all the buildings in our lives from every perspective, even when it means we need someone else to describe the other two sides! We must work together to create and maintain a safe, welcoming environment for all team members. As leaders, we should never stop striving for greater heights. That means, sometimes, cracking open our world and ensuring we are capable of creating spaces that are big and inclusive.
*LGBTQ+ includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Under the LGBTQ umbrella, there are other sexualities, including those questioning, hence the use of the plus symbol. Just as there are many different sexualities and gender identities, there are a variety of ways to ensure your LGBTQ+ team members are supported, included, and safe in their workplaces.