A range of legislation exists in the UK to protect the rights and interests of the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace.
In Northern Ireland, this includes the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003, which prohibits discrimination and harassment in employment, higher education and vocational training; the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006, which prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods and services, premises, education, and public functions; the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations (NI) 1999, which provides a degree of protection for transgender people who are undergoing gender reassignment in relation to employment and vocational training; and Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which – among other things – requires public authorities in NI to have due regard to promoting equality of opportunity between persons of different sexual orientation.
While these pieces of legislation are very important, Michelle Tyson, CEO of Tyson Wilson Recruitment and Tyson Wilson Temps, has said their existence alone is not enough: “Evidence has shown that workplace barriers, prejudice, and workplace discrimination persist even with legislated human rights protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.
“Statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that 1.2% of the NI population identify as LGB, with an estimated 4.2% of people aged 16 to 24 identifying as LGB. The higher percentage among the lower age range is likely because diverse sexualities have become more socially acceptable in recent years. However, there is still work to be done.
“It is the responsibility of all organisations – of all sizes and operating in all sectors – to take a proactive approach in ensuring a zero-tolerance policy in relation to LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace. But beyond ensuring a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, employers also have the ability and influence to foster LGBTQ+ inclusion. Employers must move the discourse beyond anti-discrimination and develop practices that support diversity and inclusion, increase awareness of LGBTQ+ issues, and encourage accountability.”
Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ employees at organisations with diversity and inclusion programmes, policies, and practices, were more satisfied and committed, perceived their workplace as fairer, and had more positive relationships with their managers and colleagues.
It is important to note that LGBTQ+ issues and relations are not just between an employer and its employees. Organisations that are not mindful of the LGBTQ+ individuals within their wider ecosystem including their supply chains, the extended family of their employees, and their customers – to name just a few – are being incredibly short-sighted. Organisations should also be mindful that LGBTQ+ employees, and others, may choose not to disclose their identity.
Therefore, positive programmes, policies, and practices should be supported and developed regardless of the known sexualities and identities within the workforce.
As a starting point, here are six steps employers can take to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion:
1. Build an inclusive workplace culture
Michelle said: “All organisations have a distinctive culture that influences how employees treat each other, which is often based on the known and communicated values of the employer, as well as the values that are unsaid but widely known.
“Positive organisational culture is rarely organic – it must be cultivated and nurtured. This means that positive behaviours are acknowledged, and reinforced, and unacceptable behaviours have consequences.”
A wide range of training is available that can help to increase awareness of LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace. For example, in recent years, many organisations have taken the positive step of carrying out training on unconscious bias for employees of all levels within the organisation. This helps to build awareness among the workforce, encourages dialogue on important issues, and supports positive change.
2. Update the language of policies and procedures
Ensuring the correct language and terminology is used in company policies, procedures, and documents goes a long way in visibly demonstrating the organisation’s stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion. If an organisation wants to ensure all employees are treated fairly and equally, documentation should be updated to reflect that position.
For example, updating maternity and paternity policies to include “mothers/partners” or “fathers/partners” rather than just “mother” or “father”, and updating “s/he” or “he/she” to “they” clearly communicates an inclusive stance. A range of organisations can support an employer in developing inclusive policies and documents.
“In addition, organisations that have supporting networks for LGBTQ+ employees, such as the Deloitte GLOBE network, can consult directly with the employees the policies affect when making changes and updates to make them more inclusive” said Michelle.
3. Develop a bullying and harassment policy
Michelle explained: “A bullying and harassment policy should be a standard policy for all organisations. However, to promote LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination and inclusion, the policy should set forth guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and highlight specific examples of both behaviours in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation.
“The policy should also clearly stipulate what employees and managers should do if a colleague is being bullied or harassed, and appropriate training should be provided to those individuals who carry out investigations.”
4. Create a support programme for LGBTQ+ employees
Programmes such as mentoring, and employee networking groups, can support your organisation in becoming a more inclusive place to work.
“Mentoring programmes specifically can be of great benefit to members of the LGBTQ+ community in relation to building confidence at work, professional development, and providing support in preparing for promotion opportunities” said Michelle.
Such support programmes can also include LGBTQ+ allies – these are employees who are not members of the LGBTQ+ community themselves, but who are allies and advocates for the community.
5. Support the wider LGBTQ+ community
Show your support to the local and wider LGBTQ+ community by providing information to employees about local LGBTQ+ events and groups, providing support or sponsorship for events such as Pride, and encouraging volunteering at events or with organisations who provide support to the LGBTQ+ community.
6. Seek out knowledge on LGBTQ+ issues and how to continuously develop an inclusive culture
Michelle added: “Becoming a supportive and inclusive employer is not a target destination, it’s a journey, and one that continually evolves.
“No organisation is expected to get it right first time, or to keep abreast of all the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community. However, fostering open dialogue and seeking knowledge to stay informed is a pretty good place to start.
“Challenge the ‘this is how we do things’ mentality and acknowledge that diversity and inclusion requires more than just “common sense”. Many employers intend to be diverse and inclusive but miss the mark because there are simply things employers won’t know unless they ask or are told.”
Stonewall is a fantastic LGBTQ+ inclusivity online resource that includes information from a range of studies, as well as best practice guides and information for organisations on how to become more diverse and inclusive.