Creating an inclusive environment for your workforce cannot happen overnight. In fact, it should always be considered a work in progress. No matter how many initiatives you run or changes that you make, the demands of your workforce will constantly change, and the individuals within your workforce will leave! Thus, you’ll deal with different demographics constantly, and those demographics all have different requirements to feel valued, comfortable and safe within the four walls of your organisation.
LGBTQIA+ folks face a unique set of challenges, and these challenges differ depending on the industry, the role they’re in, and the location where they work in. We are incredibly fortunate in the United Kingdom that LGBTQIA+ individuals can marry legally, adopt legally, and also have opportunities to undergo IVF and IUI should they wish to do so.
Additionally, as of 2010 The Equality Act was passed, protecting LGBTQIA+ folk from harassment, discrimination and victimisation at work. Although these changes are all positive - it’s important to note that these changes didn’t happen that long ago. Businesses have a responsibility to ensure that they’re going above and beyond to not just enforce legal policy in the UK, but that they’re recognising the struggles and barriers that LGBTQIA+ individuals still face on a day-to-day basis.
For a full history of LGBTQIA+ rights please click here.
It’s not about accommodating for one demographic of people over the other
Something that is important to note is that creating a safe environment for LGBTQIA+ folk doesn’t mean that you now have to overcompensate for this demographic over others in your business.
You will probably never have full scope or understanding of whom is part of the community either - there is no set characteristic to determine if someone is gay or lesbian - even if our internal biases say otherwise. You shouldn’t feel as a business owner that you are then neglecting other employees. The point of inclusivity is that it should apply to all; you may not be able to please everybody, but giving equal attention and effort is the bare minimum and what you should aim to do.
A very obvious change that a lot of businesses can make is reviewing policies to become more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ folk. For example, same-sex couples should feel as though they have an equal policy should they decide to become parents.
Taking a look at your policies and looking at how you can tweak them can be a great first step. A secondary policy (applicable for businesses that provide reimbursement for childcare or support heterosexual couples with IVF) should also be used for same-sex couples. If you’re an organisation that offers this, it’s simply including LGBTQIA+ folks in the conversation. If you have an organisation with individuals who are open about their sexuality and vocal about policies, involving them in these types of conversations and finding out where you can make a change is the best thing to do. If you have this opportunity - it’s important to take it so you can receive direct feedback from the demographic that you’re trying to help.
Enforcing disciplinary action
Hate crimes in the UK are still incredibly rife, and in fact, are increasing instead of decreasing. Statistics show that in 2022 there were 26,152 sexual orientation hate crimes reported, nearly 10,000 more than in 2021 - where 18,596 were reported. It’s important to note that these are reported crimes, which gives you an insight into potentially the thousands more that went unreported through fear of not being believed or wanting to stay away from authorities being involved.
In the workplace, your employees should feel safe and welcome - and ensuring that you have a robust disciplinary action plan and zero-tolerance policy towards homophobia is key. It’s also vital that you enforce it and take reports incredibly seriously. Just like with any discriminatory report, your LGBTQIA+ folks shouldn’t be treated any differently. It’s also crucial that you educate employees on what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace. There is always a fine line between satire and offensive language, so enforce clear boundaries and ensure that they’re understood by everybody in the organisation.
There can be a lot of grey areas when it comes to enforcing disciplinary action, so outline these for yourselves and make sure that they’re crystal clear.
Run initiatives and stay true to who you are as an organisation
If you’re passionate about the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals, make that known and part of the organisations' fabric and inner workings. What initiatives do you run? Do you donate to charities? Do you have LGBTQIA+ folk who are open and out and who are bringing ideas to the table? Celebrate this, support this - and make your intentions known. Inclusivity is all about belonging, but a big part of it is also showing up and showing allyship.
We have put together a guide for employers dedicated to supporting LGBTQIA+ folk at work. Download yours here.