Top 4 Tips for Supporting an Employee Coming Out as LGBTQ+
Across many organisations there is maturing and passionate support for LGBTQ+ people, whether it's sponsored floats during Pride, an active LGBTQ+ resource group or rainbow lanyards worn by supportive colleagues.
According to Alasdair James Scott, a senior consultant at worldwide diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global, these are wonderful steps that help create an environment that shows acceptance, tell LGBTQ+ staff that they don’t have to hide themselves if they don’t want to and build a sense of belonging amongst all colleagues.
Despite the above, these efforts towards creating an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace can sometimes seem ineffective and headline grabbing. To fully support this community, organisations need to be more specific in what behaviours are acceptable, more consistent in their messaging and more willing to hold detractors to account when poor, apathetic or discriminatory behaviours are displayed.
Here are my four top tips for organisations that want to support employees coming out as LGBTQ+:
Require active allies
Simply calling yourself an ally or a supporter of a particular group does not an ally make. Statements such as “my best friend is gay” or “I think trans people are so courageous” are supportive but they’re not actively taking on or challenging the status quo. To be a true ally means taking on the struggle of an oppressed group as your own, valuing people for their different experiences, learning about privileges and natural prejudices, and working to make the workplace more equitable in spite of them.
Watch your language
A number of organisations have historically referred to employees coming out as something to “handle” or an incident that can be “managed”. But coming out should not be an exercise in minimising risk – it’s something human that requires trust, understanding and empathy. Language is key because words like “handle” suggest LGBTQ “otherism”. You don’t handle people being straight or women revealing they are pregnant – but for some reason it seems to be legitimate to talk about LGBTQ identity as something that needs to be managed.
Optics and visibility matter
Taking time to understand what matters to the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace can go a long way to creating a safe and accepting environment. Not only that, but converting this understanding into visible and impactful actions can be a real game changer for colleagues who may still be hiding parts of their identity at work. This can start by ensuring that the provisions you provide to employees – such as a benefits package – are built through an LGBTQ+ lens and actively promoted from day one.
Parental leave is one example of this – not all parents will be heterosexual, not all women want children, some fathers of any sexual orientation are keen to be primary caregivers and people of all persuasions may prefer to adopt. In 2019, the traditional approach to parenting is starting to be eroded and the various scenarios should be anticipated and a policy/procedure built and communicated. Reach out to those concerned to gauge what might be relevant.
Official forms are another example – seeing oneself reflected on official documentation can really help to affirm one’s identity and help people feel more anticipated, heard and visible. Organisations should offer more gender and sexual orientation options in official forms, ensuring this data is stored safely and used positively – for example, to build better interventions to support the LGBTQ+ community.
Engage and measure the disengaged
It can be all too easy to find natural advocates and supporters of LGBTQ+ colleagues – but preaching to the converted is not going to drastically change the lived experience of those who really need it. To make this change means everybody taking responsibility for it, adjusting behaviour and consistently challenging themselves to lean into an identity that may feel unnatural or uncomfortable.
Organisations have taken a “softly softly” approach towards this of late, moving away from mandatory training, for example, and instead allowing the messages to evolve gradually. Gradually is arguably simply not fast enough and organisations need to be braver in their journey towards a more accepting and inclusive culture. This can start, and has started, with organisations keeping employees accountable for inclusive behaviour by aligning it to the things that matter – salary, bonus and promotions. To be engaged and supportive of inclusion, which includes LGBTQ+ colleagues, means to be promoted and successful at work when it’s seen as an essential hallmark of performance.