Over the last few decades, LGBTQ+ rights and protections have improved exponentially in many countries worldwide. But there’s still a long way to go in raising the societal acceptance and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.
The tragic reality is that those who identify as LGBTQ+ still face prejudice and unfair treatment every day, including in the workplace. In fact, a 2019 survey of 4,000 UK employees found LGBTQ+ staff typically bring home 16% less pay ( £6,703 a year) than straight people.
Along with lower pay, LGBTQ+ employees can also experience bullying, harassment, stereotyping, a lack of understanding, and many other issues that make life in the workplace incredibly difficult. In conjunction with Pride Month, we spoke to HR professionals about how businesses can support their LGBTQ+ staff, and looked at how HR tech can help.
Being LGBTQ+ in the workplace
For many members of the LGBTQ+ community, navigating the workplace can be very challenging. They often face unconscious bias, stereotypes, microaggressions, and lots of other issues in the office, explains Amber Boyle, director of diversity and inclusion at VMware. She tells UNLEASH:
“In many organizations, leadership norms are typically based on the experiences of white, cis, straight males. This, along with the lack of LGBTQ+ friendly policies and benefits in many companies, as well as lack of role models, can create further challenges.”
Ultimately, businesses have a duty to ensure their LGBTQ+ employees aren’t put at a disadvantage as a result of these issues. And that can only be done if they take steps to improve diversity in the workplace. According to Boyle, strong diversity, equity, and inclusion programs can result in positive business impact.
“Organizations attract and retain the best talent as an employer of choice, organizations can increase collaboration with diverse customers, partners, and global teams. And support for DEI initiatives accelerates innovation and improves the bottom line,” she says.
In the workplace, some LGBTQ+ employees may find it hard to share their sexual orientation or gender identity with colleagues, clients, and anyone else with whom they come into contact at work for fear of persecution and stereotyping.
Debbie Irish, head of HR, UK and Ireland, at HP, says: “A common challenge for members of the LGBTQ+ community can be feeling like you have to hide your true identity to avoid discrimination and harassment. Sometimes the workplace is no exception, and some employees who identify as LGBTQ+ may be faced with having to make decisions about whether they want to ‘come out’ to their peers.”
This view is backed by Daintta consulting manager James Saye, who provides a common scenario experienced by LGBTQ+people in the workplace.
He says: “It’s a Monday morning and you go into a meeting with a client. There’s the usual small talk question about what you did on the weekend. There’s a short pause as you think: Do I say ‘my boyfriend and I’, keep it easy with ‘my partner and I’, perhaps lie and say ‘My Girlfriend and I’ or just avoid it altogether and say ‘not much’”
Supporting LGBTQ+ employees
When it comes to supporting the different needs of employees, this is usually the core responsibility of the HR department. And there are many things HR leaders can do to make the workplace more inclusive for LGBTQ+ staff members.
“Create inclusive policies and benefits. Participate in programs such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index to identify LGBTQ inclusive policies and practices. Be a leader in terms of pushing for benefits that LGBTQIA+ individuals require,” recommends Boyle.
“Don’t be afraid to be visible and vocal in conferences, including your own company’s customer and partner conferences. Support and enable symbols of LGBTQ+ support and branding efforts. And enable systems and self-identification efforts around LGBTQ+ status and pronouns.”
One of the best ways HR departments can better support LGBTQ+ employees is by raising awareness of the different issues they face daily and ensuring all employees understand these. Saye believes that businesses can educate staff about LGBTQ+ issues through the creation of employee resource groups.
He says: “There’s growing resentment across the LGBTQ+ community of organizations simply changing their logo to rainbow colors once per year. An employee-led group can really help overcome this.”
HR departments are well-equipped to implement organizational policies and safe spaces that enable LGBT employees to connect, feel represented, share experiences, and provide feedback without being discriminated against, according to Irish.
She explains that HP has taken a range of steps to support LGBTQ+ employees, such as making the toilets at its Reading-based headquarters gender-neutral and setting up a Pride Business Impact Network.
“This network encourages diversity in pipeline development, talent programs and mentoring; and through collaboration with our senior management team, we launched the ALLIES@HP campaign across the UK & Ireland, with membership continuing to grow each year,” she says.
“Across the year the impact network runs a series of workshops, and during Pride Month we’re accelerating the momentum to raise awareness and educate our teams on how we can be action-oriented to support an inclusive culture of belonging. We are proud of our Pride Impact Network and its members’ work.”
HR tech and inclusivity
While businesses must develop and implement the right policies, protocols, and procedures to support LGBTQ+ staff in the workplace, they can also leverage different HR technologies and software.
Simple steps like adding pronouns to common HR tech solutions such as Microsoft Outlook, Zoom, and other programs can help improve the lives of LGBTQ+ employees, according to Boyle.
She adds: “Find a way to support individual privacy while also capturing data to show if we are attracting, retaining, and growing LGBTQIA+ employees.”
Romanie Thomas, CEO and founder of Juggle Jobs, recommends businesses invest in employee engagement software in order to understand and support LGBTQ+ staff.
She points out that HR departments can utilize applications like Lattice, Culture Amp, Culture Gene, Achievers, and Clear Review to provide employees with a channel to be open about their happiness and wellbeing in an anonymous manner. Thomas explains:
“When evaluating software, make sure they’ve designed the experience with LGBT in mind so that that specific issues can be captured and addressed.”
Prospective LGBTQ+ employees can sometimes face unfair treatment and discrimination when applying for new roles, but technology can help businesses tackle unconscious bias in the hiring process.
Stacey Kane, business development lead at EasyMerchant, says: “Inclusion can be greatly helped by technology in terms of talent acquisition, which includes candidate sourcing and selection. Employers and recruiters could use AI to reduce unconscious bias by removing the human element from the recruiting process.”
She says technology also allows recruiters to ensure their job adverts are written inclusively. “For example, sentiment analysis using AI-powered software can be used to identify exclusionary language. By removing human bias, businesses can better vet candidates for the right reasons,” adds Kane.
Nicky Hoyland, CEO and founder of Huler, encourages businesses to use digital storytelling as a way to make every employee aware of LGBTQ+ issues. She says: “Using real examples, content and stories across a range of mediums allows people to explore, learn, discuss and do better. Leaders should also enable storytelling and the ability to collaborate across teams, which will create an inclusive culture. Technology plays an important role in this, as it enables the conversation to take place even if the workforce is distributed.”
Clearly, LGBTQ+ employees are faced with lots of unique challenges in the workplace. But what’s encouraging is that HR professionals are taking many different steps to support LGBTQ+ employees, whether it’s developing inclusive policies or utilizing HR tech.