How organisations can instil pride and belonging all-year round

Wednesday 16 June 2021
To make our colleagues feel welcome and to foster a truly inclusive organisation, this is what you need to be doing
A painted pride flag, in rainbow colours

June is celebrated in the UK as Pride Month, which is celebrated at different times across the world. It’s a time to celebrate the challenges overcome so far and raise awareness of the work still required to ensure all people of all sexual orientations or gender identities can truly be their whole selves. For many, this need will be personal to themselves or familiar from their relationships with friends, family and colleagues. But, while many businesses choose to update their logos with rainbows or release new Pride-themed products or marketing materials, these actions can feel a bit tokenistic if the company doesn’t act as an ally the other 11 months of the year.

We spoke to people in UK businesses who have fostered a culture of belonging, where every single person who identifies as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Asexual or another type of sexual orientation and gender identity  feels welcomed and included by their colleagues and workplace. These groups are sometimes referred to as the “LGBTQA+” community, but inclusive organisations are working to nurture one community that is respectful and appreciative of individual differences.

“There are no set rules when it comes to disclosing sexual orientation in the workplace; it’s ultimately a matter of personal choice and should be entirely based on an individual’s decision and how much of their private lives they choose to share with their colleagues or employees,” says Anthony Kielty, business intelligence and management lead at Vita Health Group. “However, if people do wish to share their sexual orientation with their colleagues and friends at work, how can you as their teammate, line manager or boss support them and make them feel comfortable?”

Here are some tips to help you be truly inclusive, all-year round...

Work without labels

“Despite being a small business, half of our team identifies as gay, lesbian, bi, pan or trans, and our team represents diversity in other ways,” says Kristin Hickey, founder and CEO of Kubi Kalloo, a boutique research and planning agency. “Although I prefer not to choose a label for it, it certainly helps that I do not disguise my own sexuality in the workplace; but it’s so much more than this, just as the world and every important person within it is more than a label. This isn’t to undermine the EDI movement and, for example, Pride Month in June – in fact, I feel it supports the cause in removing all labels and forms of ‘otherness’ which impact people’s feelings, emotions and livelihood.”

Have visible networks and role models

Jamie Mackenzie, director of marketing at employee benefits provider Sodexo Engage, says that having role models in the organisation is key. “Establishing LGBTQA+ network groups, with visible role models and peers, can go a long way to making staff feel comfortable at work. It’s extremely reassuring for an employee to have somebody to look up to and instill confidence in them – particularly ‘executive champions’, who connect the network group with upper management. Seeing others expressing themselves throughout the company will encourage less confident employees to do the same.

“The best employers understand that all their employees should feel welcome, respected and represented at work. Whether that be race, religion or in this instance sexual orientation and gender identity, all parts of an individual’s character must be supported to ensure employees can be confident and comfortable at work. It goes without saying that employers and their staff alike should remain vigilant on LGBTQA+ inclusivity all year round, but Pride month is a great way to promote its importance and bring more awareness to the topic.”

Acknowledge and remove barriers

“Equality is to treat everyone the same but in doing this there is a risk of not acknowledging the barriers many of us face,” Kristin from Kubi Kalloo says. “Equity, on the other hand, is the equality of opportunity rather than just resources: it targets specific needs and provides a solution to that case, rather than simply sweeping a broad brush across the whole situation. It carries more dignity than equality and, in providing custom tools that identify and address inequality, is a stepping stone to justice of opportunity.

“I believe the best path to ensuring equity in business lies in identifying the key barriers people face, which often lie deeply hidden within culture. Whilst we cannot change social or professional frameworks overnight, the power and the responsibility lies with business leaders to develop a space that addresses these underlying barriers and proactively supports people to bring their whole self to work – which in turn promotes emotional safety and the chance to thrive. Equity is supporting the workforce at a humanistic level which is intended to make us all feel equal. Equally different. Equally amazing.”

Now we’re entering the new, new normal, you have an opportunity to reshape the workplace mould – our recently launched Better Managers Roadmap can help you identify areas to inject positive change.

Adopt gender neutral language

More than a third (35%) of staff who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or belonging to another related minority group reported to have hidden or disguised their sexual orientation or gender identity out of fear of discrimination. To help protect these employees, it would be beneficial to create a gender-neutral environment at work, says Jamie from Sodexo Engage. “This could include using language such as ‘partner’ instead of husband or wife, or adopting the pronouns ‘they/them’ until someone self-identifies – you could even start putting pronouns in email signatures. Employers should do what they can to make sure employees’ identities are respected and encourage practices to empower them to be their whole self at work. Not only should this approach be executed in everyday conversation or over email, but neutral terms and inclusive language must be rooted in a company’s policy.”

Much like the movement to drop the term ‘BAME’ because of its lack of specificity, and the worry it does more harm than good, this change is minor but could have fantastic wellbeing positives.

Here are seven top tips from Anthony Kielty on allyship and solidarity with groups that face marginalisation or discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity:

  • Do your research: Read up and understand history relating to the various types of sexual orientation and gender identities, including rights and civil rights movements; demonstrating an ability to understand, learn and research shows the commitment to allyship. Learn the different terminologies and the difference between them so you don’t have to ask colleagues what they mean.
  • Listen: The power of listening is very often underrated, and sometimes people just need someone who will hear them out. The more we listen to each other, the more we’ll understand, and this will make it easier to remove barriers, raise awareness and create an inclusive workplace culture.
  • Speak out: If you have a conversation with someone and it concerns you, elevate your reports to the appropriate person and make a plan for dealing with them. Actions should have consequences, and you need to make it clear that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. When we witness discrimination in the workplace, it can be very uncomfortable and it’s much easier to pretend you haven’t heard, or just simply to say nothing. We all need to do more to support each other and have the courage to speak up when we see or hear discrimination.
  • Role model behaviours: The key to ensuring the right level of support for your colleagues is by having more advocates at all levels; advocates who live and breathe inclusivity. Indeed, role models at the top of the company are tremendously important in both the cultivation of acceptance of the self and from others.
  • Be honest and accountable: Be honest with your colleagues and admit when you’ve made mistakes previously. Likewise own up when you don’t understand something. No one is expecting you to be an expert – and people will appreciate your honesty, rather than staying silent for fear of saying the wrong thing or saying something stupid.
  • Support local community events: Being present at conversations about inclusivity, attending networking events and support groups and just being open in communicating your enthusiasm means an awful lot to the community.
  • Take responsibility: It’s important that best practice doesn’t just come from the top. In fact, a shared responsibility for anyone working within the team, no matter their background, ethnicity, sexuality or gender identity, to set an example of inclusivity is essential. This can be done through encouragement, picking colleagues up on potentially derogatory language, strong anti-discrimination policies, listening to staff and concerted diversity training.

Why not register for a free ticket to our live webinar on the big picture of equality, diversity and inclusivity or our upcoming event on organisational transformation?

You can find out more on why equality, diversity and inclusion will be so important over the next few months in our recently launched Better Managers Roadmap.

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