HR — 2 min
It’s Pride month, and if you’re like many companies, you want to celebrate your LGBTQIA+ employees and team members. But how do you do so genuinely?
Among the queer community, some businesses are infamous for “pridewashing” — essentially using a monthlong rainbow rebrand to make money without truly supporting LGBTQIA+ people. Not being one of these businesses is the first step to helping your LGBTQIA+ team members feel like they belong.
Even with good intentions and a commitment to getting it right, though, supporting your staff requires more than a positive attitude. How can you develop practical strategies and programs for queer workers and support them in meaningful ways?
It’s important to remember that inclusion is not the same as diversity. You may have many LGBTQIA+ workers, but to move beyond diversity and into inclusivity, you have to be deliberate in how you support and celebrate your people.
Inclusion can seem particularly daunting in a company with remote workers. When not everyone works in the same place, it can be difficult to provide a great experience for all, especially when that experience is meant to promote inclusivity and acceptance. Despite the novel challenges, however, remote workplaces are ideal spots to foster inclusion for queer team members no matter where they live.
LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace means you’ve created a space where your LGBTQIA+ team can feel safe to bring their full selves to work.
This doesn’t mean all LGBTQIA+ employees will choose to share their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression with the team — nor should you expect that. Put simply, inclusion means you’re not creating an environment that excludes team members. That includes offering the same opportunities to all team members; using language that doesn’t favor hetero or cisgender identities; and adopting a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to homophobic or transphobic languages and behaviors.
The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) recommends thinking of full LGBTQIA+ inclusion as the needs of the LGBTQIA+ employees being “fully integrated throughout all key systems and processes of the organization internally, visibly represented externally, and when leaders include all aspects of diversity in a transparent manner.” Short of that standard, it’s not real inclusivity.
LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. As the US watchdog group GLAAD says, “The Q generally stands for queer when LGBTQ organizations, leaders, and media use the acronym. In settings offering support for youth, it can also stand for questioning.” Adding a + to the end of the acronym acknowledges the limitations of specific labels and welcomes others who may not identify as straight or cisgender.
At Remote, we prefer to use the longer form, LGBTQIA+, which adds intersex and asexual, agender, and aromantic recognition to the term.
Queer, an umbrella term for those who don’t fit into heterosexual or binary identities, is also sometimes used independently of LGBTQIA+, as not all people who identify as queer identify as LGBTQIA+. It is important to note that while the term “queer” has been largely reclaimed by LGBTQIA+ communities, not everyone is comfortable using the term. When in doubt, it’s best to ask people how they identify instead of guessing.
You cannot have an inclusive workplace unless everyone at your company feels safe and supported to be their full and authentic selves. LGBTQIA+ team members may choose not to come out at work, especially in environments that don’t actively practice inclusion, because of worries about safety, bullying, job loss, and the fear of losing opportunities for advancement. Those fears are, unfortunately, often justified due to the prejudices queer employees face.
Messages from employees' families and cultures may have taught them that the safest thing to do is not to come out to coworkers. The more global the workforce, the more likely it is for some of your employees to live in areas hostile to their identities. According to the Human Dignity Trust, 71 countries criminalize consensual same-sex relationships, while 15 criminalize the gender expression of transgender people. Even in countries without specific laws on the books, cultural forces and norms are often against the LGBTQIA+ community.
In 2013, IBM senior executive Claudia Brind-Woody gave a presentation called “The Cost of Thinking Twice” at a conference in Copenhagen. Brind-Woody, a business leader and lesbian who started working at IBM in 1996, discussed the reluctance to come out that LGBTQIA+ workers often experience in the workplace.
Staying in the closet at work, however, comes with a steep human cost. Brind-Woody points out that LGBTQIA+ people who are in the closet are constantly doing mental math when it comes to revealing anything about their personal lives. A simple question like, “What did you do this weekend?” can cause a minefield of anxieties. A person who does not feel safe and included must quickly decide how much to mention and how much this colleague already knows about their life.
According to Brind-Woody, the effort of making these constant calculations takes both time and effort, hurting both individual and team morale. Closeted LGBTQIA+ teammates can feel isolated at work. Many avoid places they might see colleagues on their time off. When they are on the clock, some people report being less productive because so much of their energy is spent hiding.
Inclusion efforts are important because they telegraph to employees and job candidates that your workplace is a safe place for them to be themselves.
The more inclusive a company is, the healthier it tends to be. Diverse organizations outperform their competitors on revenue, profits and employee satisfaction. Companies in the top quartile for diversity are 35 percent more likely to be more profitable than other companies in their industries. This is particularly true of companies with diverse leadership: companies in the top quartile of diversity on executive teams are 25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than peer companies in the fourth quartile.
Why is diversity and inclusion so good for the bottom line? Research supports the notion that customers are more responsive to companies with LGBTQIA+ inclusive cultures. Truly inclusive workplaces also mean happy workers. If an employee doesn’t have to hide their identity at work, energy that used to go toward guarding against potential threats can instead fuel creativity and innovation.
Perhaps the best inclusion case for diversity is simply that diverse teams are better able to discern and serve the needs of a diverse customer base than a homogeneous team can. The world is a diverse place, and companies should reflect that through their teams.
Chances are you’ve heard the term DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing.
All three of these concepts overlap in one key area: belonging.
At Remote, we believe in building belonging for every individual. To us, belonging is respecting who they are, what they offer, how they contribute, and why they’ve chosen to work with us. Belonging is the feeling of being part of something and mattering to others — the feeling that a team member is able to bring their authentic and full self to work every day.
It’s important to note there is a lot of work to do around inclusion, and that failing to do that work carries serious consequences for your business. In one study by McKinsey, 50% of LGBTQIA+ respondents “have decided against pursuing or accepting a position because they believed the organization would not be an inclusive place to work.”
Simply having a diverse staff is not enough for a business to enjoy the full benefits of a diverse team. To do that, companies must make inclusivity a top, continuous priority.
Inclusion covers a range of practices that ensure LGBTQIA+ workers feel they belong in your organization. The goal of an inclusive workplace is to ensure that all employees feel:
For LGBTQIA+ team members, inclusion covers a range of practices, such as providing benefits for partners and spouses, regardless of gender. Inclusivity also includes parental or family leave for all workers. Using inclusive language reaches beyond the gender binary (male/female) and recognizes a range of gender identities. Using your company’s influence to affect policy change that will benefit your LGBTQIA+ workers in their home countries or regions is another example — one people will be sure to investigate if your business puts out a rainbow logo in June.
While belonging is an important part of LGBTQIA+ inclusion, other things — like the aforementioned rainbow logo — are not necessarily inclusive on their own.
Joana Viana, senior expert of benefits design and strategy for Remote, groups LGBTQIA+ diversity efforts into two buckets: transactional and transformational.
“I use the question ‘What will effectively change if I do this?’” says Joana. “If the answer is nothing or very little, this is most probably a transactional action. While public support is great and welcomed, we often see corporations using Pride parades or other public events as a means to promote themselves, spending thousands of dollars on floats but not making a single dollar of contribution to an LGBT+ nonprofit, for example.”
This practice is known as “rainbow-washing.” It happens when a company publicly shows support for the LGBTQIA+ community as part of its marketing while privately engaging in business practices that do not support the community or LGBTQIA+ team members. Needless to say, transactional support without transformational support is no support at all.
LGBTQIA+ employees who do not feel they work for inclusive companies may fear being overlooked for new opportunities and promotions. LGBTQIA+ jobseekers may worry that being out could hurt their job search efforts. In many cases, queer employees who feel unwelcome will quit rather than suffer in silence.
It is essential to ensure you create a truly inclusive environment for your LGBTQIA+ team. So, how can you tell if your workplace is inclusive?
All of these steps require cultural change. Recognize that building an inclusive workplace culture of any kind can be hard work.
The rise of remote work has been a game changer for LGBTQIA+ workers. Take the example of Ali Fazal, a remote worker profiled by CNBC in 2021. Fazal grew up in a small Texas town but had made his home in New York City as an adult and wanted to stay in the city thanks to its large LGBTQIA+ community. When he took a remote vice president job with Grin, an influencer marketing platform, he was able to stay in New York — he didn’t have to choose between the support of his community and a job opportunity.
Large cities are often oases for the LGBTQIA+ population. The larger queer communities in cities often means more acceptance than in other areas and can sometimes include more progressive laws. Larger cities also offer a larger pool of LGBTQIA+ friends and potential partners. Many large cities have specific neighborhoods specifically friendly for LGBTQIA+ people, such as New York’s Greenwich Village or the Marais in Paris.
Moving from these enclaves means more than leaving friends and a home; it also can mean braving a new community that might not be as accepting of LGBTQIA+ people. Remote work allows LBGTQ+ workers to remain in (or seek out) welcoming communities and take new jobs. Queer employees in remote work no longer have to choose between being safe and being employed. For companies managing remote workforces, offering this kind of freedom and flexibility is critical to inclusivity.
“Having the possibility to choose where to live is a big help considering that some folks are born in countries where LGBTQAI+ rights aren't recognized,” says Marinica Digennaro, customer experience training manager at Remote.
The flexibility of remote work also allows LGBTQIA+ workers the ability to handle important issues, like gender transition or name changes, without having to take time off work.
“I've had a number of gender affirming procedures and was able to work from the comfort of my own home while I continued to recover,” says Cas Castrejon, user happiness manager for Remote. “I've also been going through a legal name and gender change. This has involved many meetings with a variety of legal entities during work hours. I feel lucky to have the freedom to hop offline to get name change things squared away.”
It’s important to understand the LGBTQIA+ community is not a monolith. Talk to your team members and understand what kinds of support they want and need.
Castrejon points out that while it’s important for them to be able to share their pronouns, user identity, and preferred name within the Remote platform, not all workers feel safe identifying outside the gender binary.
“There are still many places in the world where it's not safe to publicly identify as anything other than how folks are labeled at birth,” says Castrejon.
This is also where employee resource groups come into play. Employee groups will often advocate for LGBTQIA+ needs in a specific workplace. By understanding the challenges that your specific workers are dealing with, you’ll be a more inclusive workplace.
Although remote work is generally helpful for queer workers, the LGBTQIA+ community faces plenty of adversity and challenges in both in-person and remote workplaces. A truly inclusive workplace recognizes there are invisible challenges for these teammates and works to address them.
Those challenges are similar to those faced in an in-person environment, except there’s an added layer. When you’re remote, parts of your home and family can be visible to your co-workers. That can be worrying if your workplace isn’t inclusive.
“I think the challenge can be trying to figure out just how much of your authentic self you can show in a virtual environment,” says M. Williams, a technical writer and member of the LGBTQIA+ community. “It’s like how you dress on a video meeting. Do I want people to know I have tattoos? Do I want them to see a picture of a family or anything else that may not be considered the cishet norm?”
The distance of a remote environment can also impose burdens on remote LGBTQIA+ workers. Castrejon has found it more difficult to advocate for themselves in a virtual setting than they might in person.
“For example, being misgendered in a meeting can launch me into feeling dysphoric,” says Castrejon. “I usually have to take it upon myself to reach out to an individual and correct them.”
That kind of emotional burden, while invisible to others, can be exhausting.
LGBTQIA+ people regularly deal with microaggressions — comments or actions that subtly express prejudice. Microaggressions are subtle and often unintentional but demonstrate an unconscious bias or prejudice. They may be invisible to heterosexual and cisgender teammates and leadership, but they’re a signpost to LGBTQIA+ workers that your company culture is not fully inclusive.
So what do microaggressions look like? Dr. Kevin L. Nadal, author of That's So Gay!:
Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community, identified eight groups of microaggressions toward the LGBTQIA+ community. Some are subtle, but others are much more obvious:
Microaggression sometimes takes the form of invasive personal questions, such as asking trans workers whether they’ve had surgery, what they were named at birth, or any other deeply personal question related to identity. Another common microaggression is the practice of treating every LGBTQIA+ employee as a learning resource for non-LGBTQIA+ team members. This can happen on an individual level or on an organization-wide level, like expecting every LGBTQIA+ teammate to participate in a DEI council.
“Don't burden queer folks with extra work unless they volunteer to take it on,” says Castrejon. “That means inviting queer folks to provide insight, but don't expect it.”
LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace is part of a broader effort: building belonging for all team members. Below is list of practical ways every part of your organization can help build a culture of inclusion for LGBTQIA+ employees:
At Remote, we support our LGBTQIA+ team members in several ways. We practice remote-first recruiting processes to develop a workforce that is representative of the planet’s immense diversity. We’re looking for culture contribution, not culture fit.
We also have our Remoter LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group, where queer employees have a safe place to communicate with one another. We are very intentional about the language we use, both on the platform and in work, and use automated reminders to keep that language top of mind. Everyone at Remote goes through inclusion training, and all employees also receive access to Modern Health, our mental health partner, which has a variety of LGBTQIA+ services and counselors.
While policy and strategy are critical pieces of building inclusion, they take time. While you’re creating that strategy, there are practical things your organization can do right now to start creating genuine positive change in your remote team.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community often carry an invisible burden. They may not choose to be out. They may worry about how being out will affect them at work or be exhausted by having to continually come out to new coworkers or clients. They may feel they have to educate their whole team about LGBTQIA+ issues or put up with questions from well-intentioned coworkers.
Creating a culture of inclusion is a way to lessen that burden by taking some of it onto the company. Requiring pronouns for all, hiring a variety of LGBTQIA+ workers, educating the entire team, and representing various kinds of relationships and gender identities are kind and affirming ways to create a culture of inclusion. Offering benefits that help queer employees also takes pressure off workers by giving them the healthcare and PTO they need, as well as allowing LGBTQIA+ families as dependents in your company medical plan.
If you’re wondering what other benefits your queer employees need, the next step is to ask.
“LGBTQIA+ people are people,” says Digennaro. “If your employees recognize themselves as LGBTQIA+, ask them what they need to feel safe and happy at work as you would do with any employee who joins your company.”
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