Supporting LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace

01 June 2023

When it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, lots of progress has been made in recent years. In the UK, we've got equal marriage, same-sex couples can adopt or have children, and transgender people can legally change their gender.

But there is still a long way to go before we achieve equality, including in the workplace.

LGBTQ+ staff face specific challenges at work. For example, they may not be "out" to their colleagues, or they may be subjected to discrimination. But there are lots of things you can do to help LGBTQ+ colleagues feel more included in the workplace. Best of all, most things are pretty simple changes.

To mark Pride month, here are five things you can do to support LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace:

1. Set up an LGBTQ+ network

LGBTQ+ networks are a great way to ensure employees can find their community in the workplace. In fact, nearly all companies leading the way in LGBTQ+ inclusion will have one of these networks.

It's important to champion your LGBTQ+ network from the top down so, once you've set up the network, encourage senior employees to throw their support behind it.

Also, big up the network in company-wide emails and newsletters, and give regular updates on its work. Make sure you give a few shoutouts to LGBTQ+ colleagues and their work within the network, too.

All of this will help to show LGBTQ+ employees that you're taking their inclusion seriously. Importantly, let LGBTQ+ members of staff take the lead when it comes to the network, and work with them to set a clear list of aims and objectives. Listen to what LGBTQ+ network members say about what needs to be changed.

Once the network is set up, there are so many ways for LGBTQ+ colleagues to get involved. You could schedule weekly coffee mornings, quiz nights or a work social to the local Pride parade - the world's your oyster!

2. Make sure the workplace is truly LGBTQ+ inclusive

Ensure company policies are truly inclusive of LGBTQ+ employees, including healthcare, pensions, family policies, benefits, and relocation allowances. Mentioning LGBTQ+ people specifically in this documentation will help them know where they stand.

You can also add gender neutral language to workplace policies and resources so as to encompass the full diversity of LGBTQ+ people and their relationships. This could be as simple as adding the word "parent" or "partner" to company-wide communications.

For example, when sending out invites to the work Christmas party, you could say something like: "Bring along your husbands, wives and partners". All this means is that people in same-sex relationships and transgender/non-binary people will feel included.

Another step is to give staff the option to include their preferred pronouns in their email signatures and nametags. It's a small gesture, but one which can really make a difference to transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people, helping to ensure that they won't be misgendered (referred to with the wrong pronoun) by colleagues. Staff who want to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community can also do this, as one way to open up the conversation.

Lastly, adding gender neutral toilets and facilities to the workplace will make some LGBTQ+ people, who may not identify as "male" or "female", feel more comfortable.

Did you know?

Nearly one fifth of lesbian, gay and bisexual people - and one quarter of transgender people - aren't "out" to their colleagues at work.1

3. Diversity training

Not everybody knows about the issues facing LGBTQ+ people in the workplace - and that's okay. But giving all staff regular diversity and inclusion training is one way to ensure they do, and it'll help to create a more positive workplace environment for everyone.

This training could cover a variety of topics, including LGBTQ+ inclusive language, unconscious bias and the discrimination LGBTQ+ people face.

It's also worth giving colleagues a global context when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, and why many LGBTQ+ people still feel that there is so much work to be done. For example, homosexuality remains criminalised in almost 70 countries.2

You may also wish to set up a programme championing LGBTQ+ role models within your company, or hire expert speakers to give colleagues an overview of the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace.

Did you know?

Research has shown that LGBTQ+ inclusive policies aren't just better for LGBTQ+ employees - they're better for business, with these companies more likely to have bigger stock market valuations and higher profits.3

4. Get LGBTQ+ allies involved

Take a moment to think about your life. Even if you are not LGBTQ+ yourself, chances are you know somebody who is - perhaps a friend, sibling or another family member. Chances are, you want the best for them.

LGBTQ+ allies - that is, people who support LGBTQ+ rights - are a really important part of creating an inclusive workplace.

In fact, just over 3% of the British population identify as LGBTQ+, a pretty small proportion.4 That means, instead of placing the burden on LGBTQ+ people, the people with the most power to change things for the better are the rest of society.

So, encourage LGBTQ+ allies to get involved in promoting inclusivity throughout the business, including senior management, whether it's by working with the LGBTQ+ network or, as is the case with some companies, by setting up a dedicated LGBTQ+ allies initiative.

5. Make steps to ensure LGBTQ+ employees can confidentially report issues

Sadly, LGBTQ+ staff still face discrimination in the workplace - this could be by colleagues who oppose equal marriage, or who deliberately misgender or deadname (that is, calling someone by their old name) transgender people.

It's important that LGBTQ+ have ways to safely and confidentially report any discrimination they face and that appropriate action is taken to remedy this.

Training up HR staff in LGBTQ+ workplace issues is key to this, too, so that they can effectively address reports of discrimination.

Did you know?

Nearly one in five (18%) of LGBTQ+ employees have faced negative comments from colleagues because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.5

The takeaway

Hopefully the above has given you some good places to start when it comes to supporting your LGBTQ+ colleagues. Remember, it's an ongoing process - and it won't happen overnight.

But it's never too late to start, and taking these steps could really make a positive difference to the lives of your LGBTQ+ employees.


About the author

Ella Braidwood is a freelance journalist specialising in the LGBTQ+ community who writes for publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post and more.