For LGBTQIA People to Feel Comfortable at Work, Culture Needs to Change

by Jody Ordioni

For LGBTQIA People to Feel Comfortable at Work, Culture Needs to Change

Amidst all the news regarding COVID-19, other important topics have taken a backseat. Things are changing and not just across one front. The workforce is also witnessing an upheaval when it comes to recruiting, attracting, and retaining talent. The difference between company policies and the company's actual efforts when making employees from diverse background feel comfortable is vast. The role of leadership is to create open-arms policies that allow job seekers from different backgrounds and experiences to feel comfortable at work. This is also how companies will be able to attract top talent.

Employees Must be Involved in Changing the Company Policies

The past twenty years have seen women, people of color, and people of different gender and sexual identities joining the workforce. This has led to a demographic change that creates new challenges for everyone. Therefore, any changes in policy have to include the employees, since it would affect them the most.

When employees are involved in making changes within the company, they are more likely to positively change the culture and uphold the changes, as compared to instructions being handed down from the C-suite. To ensure a welcoming environment for employees in the company, ask existing ones to help in figuring out the inconsistencies.

Many companies still hold on to the heteronormative ways of classifying race, gender, and class, which are a reflection of past policies and government rules. This has led to companies - unintentionally mostly- treating employees, customers, and stakeholders in an outdated manner, with regards to their identity. Instead of classifying employees into traditional categories or identities, it is better to view them as individuals capable of singular expression. Respecting their identity expression and outlook on life will only enhance the culture in your life.

Creating Policies Against Judgmental Employees

Long-time employees might be curious about the hullabaloo created around identity and its expression, which has created a strong conversation about diversity in the workplace. For them, the advice that they should remember is that colleagues have to be seen in terms of what they contribute to the overall welfare of the company and not as a sum of their identity, even if it makes you queasy. At times like these, companies should have zero tolerance for even a single judgmental employee. Company culture needs to change and be more welcoming towards people from the LGBTQIA community.

Senior employees would do well to remember that it is not the first time that changes like this have been introduced in the workplace. Ever since it was declared illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on gender, caste, or color, newer regulations have been introduced to close any remaining loopholes. The newest addendum that makes it unlawful to discriminate based on sex, also includes sexual identity, in addition to biological sex. This is not a minority appeasement. Rather 4.5% of the US population identifies as LGBTQIA, therefore implying that acceptance in the workforce impacts a lot of people.

Our reports have found that even though decades of struggle and hard work have led to some reforms, companies still have a long road to travel before becoming truly inclusive. LGBTQIA people still do not feel wholly welcomed in their workplaces, with a shocking 75% reporting that they have faced negative interactions due to their sexual identities.

More than 40% are closeted, i.e. they are not comfortable about their identity being public and half of those who are in the open do not tell colleagues or clients. This does not only create discomfort, it also tangibly impacts their work, such as a decrease of 40% in their productivity levels or them being thirteen times more likely to quit. In terms of talent retention, this is a huge loss to any company.

Eliminating the Biases and Discrimination at the Workplace

Of course, any company that is interested in becoming more diverse and retaining talented employees would like to remove any biases. But how should they proceed?

The first step is the formal avenue. It implies that companies adopt and implement policies that have physical consequences such as gender-neutral bathrooms, equal health benefits, mentorship programs with LGBTQIA leaders (which would also mean promoting employees of different identities to such positions), and more.

However, this will only lead to changes in their material conditions. To ensure that informal interactions and thus, employees' mental health remains well, there has to be more acceptance in the company culture. This is where the leaders step in. They can implement better practices such as self-identification, inclusive practice standards, and confidential channels that address the problems of employees.

The Bottom Line

As with any culture, actions speak louder than any words can. The post-COVID era will bring talent shortages into sharper focus as the priorities of people will change. Businesses that can become more diverse and inclusive will find a greater pool of talented people to work with and manage to stay at the top.

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