Deemed ‘Pride’ month, June is the annual time employers across the world celebrate their LGBTQA employees. While donating to important non-profits, hosting rainbow-themed happy hours (even via Zoom), and pausing to recognize this community is important, inclusivity and equality should be ongoing. It’s not enough to set aside a few sessions or parties in the month of June and consider your self a diverse employer or an ally. Here, executives from various industries provide insight on the impactful ways brands can support, honor, attract, and engage with LGBTQA professionals:
Provide funds for inclusivity and education
It should go without saying, but a photographer and gay man Andrew Werner reminds managers that no two people are alike, and what works for one individual may not be relevant for another. No matter how we identify ourselves, everyone wants to feel appreciated, values, accepted and respected. One way to illustrate this fundamental value is to provide funds to employees who would like to attend conferences or online seminars on the topic of inclusivity, or allocating money to host LGBTQ+ speakers at an office event, Werner recommends.
Ensure dress codes remove gender norms
Though many start-ups are lax about dress codes, and ahem, most folks are sporting athleisure at home these days, it’s essential to give your policies a second-glance. There could be some language that is not only out-dated but inappropriate and offensive. As a lesbian woman and the creator of LIFTED, Holly Rilinger explains, part of including an open and welcoming workspace is removing gender norms from your communications. “Dress codes where references to wearing dresses or heels can feel alienating. I’ve never worn a dress or skirt in my life and don’t really plan on it,” she adds.
Remove binary assumptive language
Many companies have started the process of removing binary assumption wording in emails and corporate communications already. If you haven’t already, take the opportunity to pull out a red pen and begin restructuring. When you do this, you make room for all employees to clarity how they identify, according to Odessa Jenkins, a lesbian woman and the CEO of the Women’s National Football Conference. “Language is critical in helping businesses express beliefs, goals, and desires. If a company truly desires to be inclusive and celebratory of all employees, they must display it in their language,” she shares.
If you’re not sure where to begin, she recommends these steps:
- Encouraging pronouns within employee signatures.
- Adding an implicit statement for supporting/celebrating LGBTQ employees in your company mission and code of conduct statements.
Make all celebrations equal
Before the pandemic, think of the in-office gatherings you were invited to and attended. Birthday parties, sure. But also baby showers, engagements, promotions, and so on. Though it may seem obvious, Tyler Williams, a gay man and the CEO of Nouveau Communications explains many LGBTQA+ team members are excluded from the traditional milestones, when they should be celebrated like any other employee. “From personal experience, I was so stunned and grateful when my employer recognized my wedding with a surprise wedding shower,” he shares.
Consider appointing a point-person who will ensure all professionals are recognized equally during life’s big moments.
Hire LGBTQ executive leaders
As Jenkins puts it, most of us come to work every day because of the people we work for and the people we work with. And if an LGBTQ+ individual feels as if they are alone in their identity? It won’t feel like an inclusive workplace, making it less likely for them to accept an offer letter or stay at a company. She stresses the importance of diverse leadership teams and partnerships that are representative of all people. “For starters, hire Executive leadership and company board members who identify as LGBTQ, create formal partnerships with local and national community groups which celebrate LBGTQ people, and ensure that partnerships and vendors are LGBTQ inclusive.”
Foster a sense of community for LGBTQ+ employees through donations
So much about pride is also about community and members of a chosen family, explains Patrick Gevas, a gay man and the vice president of GreenRoom. More than ever, it’s important to nurture and foster these individuals, with many companies working remotely for the foreseeable future. “If a company is still remote and unable to gather employees, there are many worthy organizations that always need funding,” he explains. He suggests polling the LGBTQ+ members of the workplace on the ones they support.
Another idea from Brittny Drye, a heterosexual ally and the editor-in-chief of Love Inc magazine, is to support LGBTQ-owned businesses. This could be sending gift cards to a local eatery so employees can order-in lunch or dinner, hire a planner for the corporate party, and share any other opportunity.
Regardless of where you work, you should not be expected to answer inappropriate questions about your personal life. Even so, sometimes, heterosexual professionals have a stereotype of LGBTQ+ employees that is biased and inaccurate. As Williams shared, he once worked for a company where he singled out by the CEO at the end of a board meeting. Casual and innocent conversations around weekend plans led to invasive inquire about his sex life. “There’s simply no way that would’ve happened if I was straight, as I had never seen that behavior displayed towards any of my straight colleagues,” he continues. “Your LGBTQ coworkers want to be treated just like the rest of the team—so just do that. It’s basic respect.”
Update healthcare and paid leave policies to be inclusive
While time off is given for many life-altering experiences—like childbirth, the death of a family member, and so on—many companies do not recognize the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why co-founder of Pipcorn Jen Martin says it’s vital for employees to include paid time off for gender-confirming surgery and recovery and a broader definition of family leave. “Many big moments that don’t fit within the heteronormative construct require time off,” she continues. “Having room in your benefits to accommodate those PTO days and offering them no-questions-asked to your staff is amazing.”
Take a stance and share it proudly!
Unfortunately, we still live in a day in age where LGBTQ people are denied equal rights in certain parts of the country. And that’s why companies must recognize their employees and be vocal in their unwavering support of equal rights.
“When the Supreme Court first heard arguments around whether or not the Civil Rights Act extended protections to LGBTQ employees, I heard from a friend that his company sent out an immediate memo reiterating their anti-discrimination policy and clearly stated that no person would ever lose their job at the company based on sex, gender identity or sexual orientation,” Williams shares.
This helped Williams’s friend feel safe and comfortable, but it built loyalty between employees—and all they recommend for future job opportunities at the company.
Keep the conversation going.
While anyone can turn a logo rainbow for a month or throw money at a parade, it’s much more critical that the individuals feel heard throughout the calendar year, Gevas reminds. “For me, if I only see my employer pandering during June, I’d have a much more negative opinion overall since that’s the lowest form of true engagement,” he continues.
This year since in-office celebrations aren’t a possibility for most and parades are canceled, Gevas says it’s an appropriate time to have a thoughtful discussion without any other distractions. Start by asking, ‘How are you celebrating? And how can we join you?’
“One can’t assume that just because a member identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community that they will automatically be covered in glitter and feathers to march in a parade. Perhaps that person would rather learn more about the life of Marsha P. Johnson or watch ‘Paris is Burning’ to more fully understand ballroom culture and how so much of that influence is seen today in drag culture,” he continues. “Pride is an outward celebration, but pride can also be personal, and workplace leadership must understand that.”