Proud to be Yu: building an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees

What can employers do to attract, retain and promote the best LGBTQ+ talent? Our panel of experts weighs in.

Yugi the Giraffe - 21 June 2022

Now more than ever, employees want their workplaces to be inclusive towards LGBTQ+ people. And employers are increasingly aware of the benefits of a diverse and empowered workforce.

This makes sense, given that the LGBTQ+ community is growing. In the UK, the ONS reports that the number of people identifying as heterosexual has continued its downward trend, reaching 93.7% in 2019. According to Gallup, in the US 7.1% of adults identify as LGBT – and that number rises to 10.5% in Millennials, and 20.8% among Generation Z. This trend is matched by more accepting attitudes towards same-sex relationships, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey.

In our Proud to be Yu event, we spoke with a panel of experts about what challenges the LGBTQ+ community is facing today, how employers can meet those challenges, and why it matters that everyone can bring their full, authentic selves to work.

The business case for being LGBTQ+ inclusive

As YuLife’s Head of User Content, Happy Fiala, points out, ‘values’ is “such a buzzword right now” in the business world. And for many leaders, creating an inclusive workplace is at heart a matter of values.

But there are undeniable benefits beyond that. Multiple studies show that having a more diverse workforce leads to greater innovation, and in turn to higher revenues. One Boston Consulting Group study showed that companies with above-average management team diversity reported 19% higher innovation revenue than companies with below-average diversity at that level.

There’s also a clear business case for appealing to a wide range of consumers, opening up new market segments for your products or services. Tom Loeffert, VP of HR at Fluke Reliability, says that while we need to be vigilant about rainbow washing, the issue with it is not businesses recognising the importance of LGBTQ+ consumers. It’s when their commitment doesn’t extend beyond adding a rainbow to their logo for June.

He explains how he spoke with Barclays’ Head of D&I about their involvement in Pride. In their case, “it wasn’t just about let's do something because it's the right thing to do and we're being pressured to do it. It was about, ‘How do we attract wealth into our company that will then allow us to drive our business model?’ That's how organisations have to start looking at this. It's a market opportunity.”

Attracting LGBTQ+ talent and consumers

There are many things an organisation can do to attract a more diverse range of applicants, such as ensuring job postings use inclusive language, and highlight relevant policies and benefits. But Fiala suggests that you need to start by looking at your current employees’ experiences.

“How many of your most successful people have been referrals from existing employees? [...] If you're hiring exclusively straight, white, cis, het [people], that's what you're going to get in as well. If you look around and there's a lack of diversity in your workplace, that's not just because you're wording things in a job posting wrong. It's because you didn't prioritise it early, or maybe you have queer people in your organisation that don't want to recommend you to their friends.”

Loeffert agrees, emphasising that you can’t stop at recruitment. You have to continue to invest in your people.

“I was lucky enough to work at one company where we partnered with INvolve and OUTstanding [...] to focus on board readiness for LGBTQ+ leaders, which is no different to when we would send some other individual to a different type of external leadership development.”

Finding the right words

One stumbling block on the way to creating an inclusive workplace is language. Some people outside of the LGBTQ+ community feel anxious about which terms to use. And while this often comes from a positive place – not wanting to upset or mislabel someone – it can prevent important conversations.

Dominic Vince, Transformative Life Coach at Unity Coaching, suggests that if you’re anxious, you can start by actively listening. How are the people around you referring to themselves? And defaulting to neutral language includes everyone – “what did you and your partner do this weekend?” applies to relationships with any combination of genders.

Next, you can look up unfamiliar terms you hear, and do some initial reading. It’s not appropriate to ask LGBTQ+ colleagues to explain everything to you; you can easily answer a question like “what does the Q stand for?” with two minutes online. But you can certainly ask for clarification and further depth in a respectful way.

“If somebody comes to me within the workplace, and they say ‘I've seen this, can you explain it a little more?' Fantastic! [...] Show me that you've done some legwork, and then we can engage in that conversation."

Organisations can help clarify things for their employees by having an up-to-date inclusive language policy, and communicating it clearly. Fiala suggests it should be a prominent part of the onboarding process.

"You don't have to make an internal wiki where you list out all the different identities and buzzwords and 57 genders [for new hires]. They can find that elsewhere! But using that language yourself, in those [onboarding] documents, goes a really long way."

Storytelling and working with external speakers is another excellent way to give less-informed employees a space to actively listen and safely ask questions. Loeffert brought in Gareth Thomas to speak at SAP, explaining that, "I purposely chose him because I was trying to send a message and a signal at this big organisation with many men."

“It's about being proactive rather than reactive. Don't wait until someone arrives in your organisation. Create that space so that anyone who walks into your company or organisation already sees that work has been done.”

Being proactive, not reactive

Which words you are – and aren’t – using is one of the small signals that many LGBTQ+ people will notice in a new or potential workplace.

As Fiala explains, "It's about being proactive rather than reactive. Don't wait until someone arrives in your organisation. Create that space so that anyone who walks into your company or organisation already sees that work has been done."

This forethought also reduces the burden on your LGBTQ+ employees to educate their colleagues, and the business at large, freeing up their energy for what they’d rather focus on – their job.

In his work as a coach in the LGBTQ+ community, Vince has seen in many of his clients a desire “to just be authentically themselves, to just exist and not be consciously identified to be LGBTQ+.”

Fiala agrees, adding that “it's not special treatment, it's not extra measures – all we want is to walk into a workplace where we don't have to have that conversation about our identities constantly as the main thing about us.”

Having proactive allies, especially in management and leadership roles, is “one of the strongest ways you can take care of your existing co-workers and make sure that you're creating space for future co-workers,” they continue. “Everyone, be that advocate.”

Why workplace policies matter

While having individual peers or leaders advocating for them in the workplace matters, fundamentally the only way to build an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees is to take a systemic approach.

“Policies are an articulation of culture,” explains Loeffert. “And you can change culture through policies.”

So if you want to be a leader in terms of inclusion, you need to put in place strong policies which support a diverse range of groups. This requires careful, practical thought and consultation with the affected communities. Falia gives the example of fertility treatment:

“In [the UK] and the United States, you need to prove that you've had trouble conceiving on your own, which as you can imagine for trans or same-sex couples is not proveable. It literally comes down to, there not being an insurance code for them to type in.”

Loeffert observes that LGBTQ+ employees’ mental health is often overlooked when considering workplace policies, even though the community on average has “higher rates of mental wellness issues”. Ensuring that your healthcare policy covers therapy helps everyone, but can have a particularly profound effect on your LGBTQ+ employees. YuMatter can complement this, by providing 24/7 online access to clinically trained mental health professionals.

Showing that your organisation is aware of issues like these, and proactive about addressing them, goes a long way towards showing your LGBTQ+ employees that you care about them far beyond Pride Month. This sort of support enables people to bring their full, authentic selves to work and perform at their very best.

Ultimately, inclusive policies should be just that – inclusive. Adjusting your parental leave policy to include LGBTQ+ parents doesn’t take anything from hetrosexual parents. Including gender transition in your healthcare cover won’t affect those employees who don’t need it. When considering your policies, Loeffert says to “always ask: how can this apply to anyone?”

Make your workplace friendlier for LGBTQ+ people, and you’ll make it more inclusive for everyone.

To learn more about how to build an inclusive people strategy in your workplace, sign up for our upcoming event, Perspectives on Pride, where two extraordinary HR leaders, David Blackburn from FSCS and Emma Cusdin from S&P Global will share their insights on championing inclusion.

Yugi the Giraffe

Yugi is our YuLife mascot. Like all giraffes they've got a big heart – in fact the biggest heart of all land animals.