Identity at Work

Five ways to welcome LGBTQ employees during Pride month

Regardless if you’re the founder of your own company with a handful of employees, or a manager on a large team at a 500-person corporation, learning how to guide people to success is a big learning curve.

While you’ll quickly discover that everyone flourishes differently, you’ll also begin to value your employees for their individual, unique qualities. Though you want to be mindful to keep your actions (and reactions) professional, it’s a smart idea to celebrate national holiday and awareness months, in an effort to show respect and kindness that boosts team morale.

During the month of June, companies and managers have the opportunity to express their support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) community in honor of Pride: a positive stance against discrimination and violence toward people within the LGBTQ community.

“It is imperative that every member of your team feel comfortable at work. Managers must lead the way by consistently demonstrating kindness and tolerance of difference,” Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert explains. “When managers support LGBTQ employees, they lead by example and let other employees know that discrimination and intolerance are not accepted in the workplace. Managers encourage tolerance and inclusion and set the tone for the office through their direct behavior and interactions.”

Here’s how to professionally support your LGBTQ employees this month —and every month.

Include the word ‘diversity’ in your mission statement

If you’re the CEO of your company or you lead a large team, you set the standard for what’s accepted, promoted and tolerated. And if you have the opportunity to write or contribute to the mission statement, Hakim says to make sure you center your internal guidelines around diversity, which of course, just means ‘difference.’ “In meetings, emphasize the need to embrace different ideas, different positions, and different people from all backgrounds and sexual orientations,” she shares. This open door policy from the get-go will help those within the LGBTQ community feel appreciated and comfortable in their workplace, which encourages them to not only be better employees, but happier, too.

Let employees know they’ll be respected 

Regardless of your employees’ personal lives outside of working hours, sexuality isn’t something that’s included in your performance review and has no role in determining or holding back a raise or a promotion.

That’s why Kate Sullivan, a business psychologist and career coach notes that it’s a manager’s responsibility to make it clear to all employees —lesbian or lesbian or gay or straight or bi or transgendered or questioning—that their orientation is a non-issue.

“Whether you’re heterosexual, homosexual, bi, asexual, androgyne, trans, or any other permutation of human sexuality, it doesn’t matter at work—your professional identity is what counts. But since your sexual identification is part of who you are as a total human, any baggage associated with that inevitably comes to work with you,” she notes. “As a manager, demonstrate to your employees every day that it’s your skills, attitude, enthusiasm, and professionalism that matters on the job—not who you choose to date.”

Another thing that managers should note: the days have passed when people could argue “I don’t see color,” or “I don’t see sexuality.” That erases the experience that some employees want to embrace. Other employees may not want to. Either way, pay attention to what makes people feel respected. Instead of pretending differences don’t exist, honor the differences and stay focused on teamwork.

Have regular diversity awareness training sessions

Just like most companies mandate sexual misconduct training as required, you can do the same with diversity awareness sessions. These will help other employees within the company, including those who work directly with LGBTQ employees, to understand their biases and to overcome them, if necessary.

“Invite external consultants or agencies to deliver these sessions. When a company pays for training, then the employees recognize that this is important,” Hakim says.

What should these sessions cover? Like above, consider budgeting for a trained professional and make sure the agendas are clear and productive. Sullivan suggests covering topics like “discriminatory speech, derogatory terms, and normative language that might be making your LGBTQ employees uncomfortable in the workplace, and more.”

Offer clear and comprehensive benefits and leave policies

A (much-awaited) trend in many modern workplaces is offering family leave opportunities for not only father’s (since they’re becoming parents too), but for LGBTQ community members who are adopting or welcoming children into their households. Sullivan says by offering the same opportunities for everyone, employees will feel empowered and appreciated by the higher-ups. Here, it’s not just the benefits that are key, but the way you word them, too. You want to be inclusive of all.

“Be sure that you offer ‘domestic partner’ benefits instead of simply spousal benefits, if it’s feasible to do so,” Sullivan says. “Instead of maternity or paternity leave, consider offering ‘parental leave’ that allows the non-birthing parent to take time with their new arrival, or that permits LGBTQ parents who are adopting to spend the necessary time during that complicated process, including giving time off for background checks, visits, paperwork, and bonding with the new arrival. Offer whatever assistance is possible to transitioning employees, including time off work and help with educating coworkers on terminology and new introductions.”

Support affinity groups

Many companies encourage affinity groups for employees. Google, for instance, has “Gayglers.” These affinity groups can be valuable sources of support, communication and job opportunities for employees of different identities.

During the month of June, you could plan something special for all employees, giving everyone the opportunity to show their support of their LGBTQ co-workers and friends. It shouldn’t be mandatory, but Sullivan says it should be fun and tasteful.

“Consider company sponsorship and/or volunteering in your local Pride March in or near your city or organize a Pride Week event for employees of all identities to participate and celebrate diversity together,” Sullivan explains. “If you’ve already established support structures, resources, and possibly even an Allies group within your organization, this is a great way to get people together to understand and celebrate diversity—and if you haven’t set up an Allies group, this may be a good way to kick off those efforts.”

And remember: don’t call it a parade. Like Black History Month and Women’s History Month, Pride is not purely celebratory; it also acknowledges the struggle for equal rights. Many LGBTQ people wouldn’t even call festivities “parades”: many prefer to call them “marches” until equality for all has been reached within the community.