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  • Writer's pictureBrad Federman

Patchwork and Divide: LGBTQ in the Workplace

By Brad and Aris Federman

Originally Published in HR Professionals Magazine

Do your company’s policies adequately protect and support your LGBTQ employees? If they didn’t, would you know? Why should you care?

A company’s efforts in protecting and supporting their LGBTQ employees may inadvertently parallel the national conversation about federal LGBTQ protections; which means misconceptions about the degree of coverage the community actually has probably exist.

At a quick glance, things seem to be on the up and up for the LGBTQ community in recent years. With the legalization of same sex marriage and a growing cultural acceptance of the LGBTQ community, many assume that the community is safe and legally protected. If you’re under that impression, you’re one of many. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, nearly half of Americans believe that the federal law protects LGBTQ citizens from discrimination on a basis of their sexual orientation. This just isn’t the case.

Only 21 US States have anti-bias laws in place to protect LGBTQ employees. More so, the federal laws surrounding workplace LGBTQ protections are ambiguous and the current administration has stated that LGBTQ individuals aren’t covered at all. The false but widespread assumption that the LGBTQ community has adequate protection is a dangerous and prevalent one. It leads to a lack of awareness about LGBTQ workplace issues, blindsides many LGBTQ employees who encounter discrimination, and gives a false sense of security and progress to the nation as a whole. 

Currently the rules don’t exist.  Everything is ambiguous and up in the air.  Even parts of the federal government, such as the DOJ and the EEOC, don’t agree on what is covered and what is not when it comes to the law and LGBTQ discrimination/harassment.  What does that mean for employers?  It means it will most likely be determined in the courts.  Do you want to be a legal test case?

Your company may not be much better than the national conversation. In fact, it may mirror it directly. According to a PerformancePoint, LLC poll titled ‘State of LGBTQ in The Workplace 2018’, members of a company were asked if their company recognizes the contributions of every employee regardless of their sexual orientation. The responses were heartening:

  • 97.14% saying they agree or strongly agree

This would lead you to believe that the companies are doing a solid job of protecting and supporting their LGBTQ employees. Similar statements like ‘The company does a good job of inclusion in regard to LGBTQ employees’ bolster this outlook, as they also received overwhelmingly positive remarks. While these polls seem positive, and to a degree they are, responses to other questions undercut their weight.

When PerformancePoint asked if the company had educational programs to familiarize employees with LGBTQ issues, we see a different story: 

  • 68.54% disagree or strongly disagree.

When asked if the company does a good job of communicating company policies surrounding LGBTQ employees, the numbers showed that:

  • Only 40% agreed or strongly agreed.

According to Catalyst LGBT employees feel that only 8% of their colleagues are very informed about the issues they deal with every day. 

In this way, we see companies mirroring the national conversation. There is an assumption that LGBTQ employees are doing fine but fine isn’t that clear and simple.  The positive remarks may inadvertently hide the fact that a company’s policies in regards to LGBTQ employees are inadequate. This has repercussions for any business.

The failure to foster and protect diversity can lead to the loss of a unique company culture and even worse, the loss of some of your best employees and a deteriorating public brand. In the end, this is not about protecting a group of people.  This is about protecting all of your people.  It is about reaffirming that you hire and retain the best because you have the systems and culture to support doing so.  So what can we do to bolster the stances of our companies and improve the workplace protections of LGBTQ employees on a company-wide level?

  1. Create a safe place to work for all. Make sure part of your culture reflects respecting others in some way and helps to remind people not to stereotype others.

  2. Review your policies.  Most policies mirror the law.  The law is the minimum requirement; the floor.  Adjust your policies to expect more from your employees.  Make sure the policies reflect current nomenclature.

  3. Train your people on diversity, inclusion and equity.  Make sure you support your policies and culture with a real investment. 

  4. Create space for people to have affinity groups and feel supported to discuss their concerns and issues. 

  5. Provide an opportunity for all employees to learn about one another in a productive manner. 

  6. Help managers and employees understand how to talk about situations such as a colleague transitioning so they do not create a problem unintentionally.

  7. Lead conversations about bias and unconscious bias.

  8. Learn to be more thoughtful and intentional in choosing team building activities.  Don’t rely on the same types of team bonding, leaving certain people out.

  9. Define what respect and civility mean in the workplace.

  10. Help employees evaluate their comfort level with various differences including LGBTQ. 

Remember at work we are a team and teams must value, trust and respect one another.  We may not always agree with one another, but we can appreciate one another and create a culture that allows each of us to feel valued at work.

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