As a transgender employee in the workforce, I see both the reticence of my LGBTQ community to work in a corporate environment, and the ways it has allowed me to grow through queer positive employers. Every June, pride month gives us all a chance to celebrate the great achievements of LGBTQ community members while also reflecting on the fraught history of discrimination in all spheres of our world.
Even with continual social and political shifts that mandate the equal treatment of LGBTQ people in the workplace, the unemployment rate among transgender Ontarians was 20% in 2019, almost four times higher than the general population’s unemployment rate during the same time period. This indicates that there is still work to be done to support queer and trans employees in the workplace. Below are some tips on how to foster workplace inclusion and diversity.
On the ground: tips for navigating boundaries, advocacy and supporting your LGBTQ employees
Often, power dynamics in the workplace impact the ability of LGBTQ staff to advocate for themselves and their needs. Take it upon yourself to proactively ask your employees their pronouns, and consistently use them. If you make a mistake, quickly correct yourself or move on and work hard to not repeat the mistake.
It is worth taking the initiative of asking how your team member would like you to navigate how other employees refer to them, too. As with everyone, queer and trans employees have different boundaries in terms of their experience and language they want used. If you experience a situation and are unsure of what to do, ask them. Conversely, you must also be prepared to advocate for them if they consent and the situation calls for it. This could come in the form of correcting people’s pronoun use or language, advocating for affirming policy change, or pushing back on gendered washrooms or dress code requirements. Creating a supportive workplace is far more holistic than simply trying to hire a diverse team, but rather a culture that is based on empowering staff regardless of their lived experience.
Celebrate Diversity through Policy and Strategic Planning
The percentage of the population identifying as LGBTQ is increasing, with a 2012 survey indicating that 11.1% of 18-34-year-old Canadians identify as LGBTQ. This represents a huge proportion of clients, stakeholders, and general market share that will continue to grow. Representation matters and having a diverse face to your company will impact the candidates who apply to work with you.
Celebrate diversity in your workplace both formally and informally. Conduct information sharing of relevant resources, provide regular training and professional development opportunities for your staff that take an intersectional, diversity focused approach. See past identity categories as an indicator of diversity— reflect on your own needs and their differences from other coworkers, how you all learn best, and the informal ways you navigate diversity in your workplace already.
It is important to review your hiring practice and policies to ensure that they reflect support of the diversity you want to cultivate. If you truly want to increase diversity and maintain a safe environment for LGBTQ staff, you must continually work with your team and update your practices to have the most up to date policies in place, along with reflecting on your own personal biases in hiring. A good reflective exercise is to ask yourself, could you answer a question like ‘what policies are in place to protect LGBTQ staff’. If you can’t, then it is worth bolstering you and your workplace’s approach.
In Pride at Work’s “Hiring Across All Spectrums: A Report on Broadening Opportunities for LGBTQ2+ Job Seekers”, they stated of pride month that “Commitment to LGBTQ2+ inclusion can be demonstrated during Pride Month […] however, many LGBTQ2+ people look for a deeper commitment from companies when it comes to inclusion”. Supporting your LGBTQ employees through Pride month is one small part of making our workforce more tolerant and accepting, but many LGBTQ current and future team members need more continuous policy change and advocacy to truly be safe at work.