Finding (And Creating) LGBTQ Inclusive Work Environments

By Kathy Morris
Oct. 26, 2021

Unfortunately, in the US many states have lax laws and protections in place for LGTBQ employees.

This puts an unfair burden on employees themselves to not only find supportive companies- but to help shape the workplace policies and aid in creating inclusive environments where all workers feel welcome.

To help employees with this mountain of a task, we created this resource to guide them on the job hunt and in the workplace.

Creating Inclusive Workplace- For Employees

As an employee, you have the power to be powerful LGTBQ ally in the workplace– regardless of how you identify.

Not sure where to start? We have some tips to aid you in being a powerful resource in creating an inclusive workplace.

  • It’s Not Your Coworkers’ Job To Educate You: People from marginalized groups are often asked insensitive personal questions. These questions can be emotionally trying, insensitive, and places all the burden of inclusiveness on them. Just because your colleagues may be members of the community does not mean it is their job to answer all your questions. Be respectful of your colleagues right to privacy and take charge of your own education.
  • Research: Much like you’re doing right now, research something if you don’t understand. Be open and upfront with how much you don’t understand, but don’t depend on your LGBTQ+ coworkers to educate you on everything.
  • Stay informed: Read the news, keep up with current events and learn about the challenges that face the LGTBQ+ community.
  • Make Your Allyship Visible: Speaking up for those in the community when appropriate can be one way of letting colleagues see they are not alone. Similarly, displaying a sticker or other swag from pro-LGTBQ organizations can be a silent but visible way of letting colleagues know where you stand in a world that can be unfriendly and often hostile.
  • Consider Creating A Community Or Organization: Company clubs and organizations can be a powerful network. Together the community can advocate for change from leadership at the highest level. All employees, regardless of whether they are LGTBQ, can join and make a powerful difference. Not only can allies use their straight privilege to help fight for change, it allows people to participate without being forced to ‘out’ themselves.
  • Be there: If someone needs to talk, just be there to listen and remember that it’s not your place to come out for someone.
  • Speak up: Say something if you hear a slur, an anti-LGBTQ+ joke or if someone is passing around misinformation. Make sure when you are speaking up, it’s safe for you to do so. It’s important to explain why what they are saying is hurtful.
  • Everyone is different: There are many different groups of people within the LGBTQ+ community that it’s important to not associate everyone as the same. LGBTQ+ includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and many other groups of people including non-binary and pansexual individuals. You should recognize that everyone has their own experiences and struggles.
  • Avoid tokenizing: Understand that members of the LGBTQ+ community are more than what they identify as. For example, it’s important to remember that your “gay friend” is actually just your “friend.”
  • It’s Not Going To Be Easy: Helping to create an inclusive environment is not as simple as putting a rainbow sticker on your laptop or merely accepting your coworkers. It is daily behaviors and advocacy that make lasting changes.
  • Signs Of An Inclusive Workplace

    Finding a job can be stressful enough on its own, and trying to find an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace on top of that can make things even harder. Here are signs to look out for when job hunting to determine whether or not a company is LGBTQ+ inclusive.

    • Look beyond the rainbows: Watch out for rainbow washing. Some companies will put rainbows on their company website once a year during pride month and take it down immediately after without doing any tangible work to support their LGBTQ+ workers or the LBGTQ+ community. If you search for a company and see a picture of employees with a rainbow flag, this may be a good sign but make sure to look deeper.
    • Look for an employer’s non-discrimination policy: Check to see if the company’s non-discrimination policy protects employees against discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. Here are four steps to help you find this policy.
    • Look it up: The first thing that you can do is search online for an employer’s non-discrimination policy. An easy google search is “ [company name] non-discrimination policy”. Pairing “gender identity” or “sexual orientation” in a search with a company name can also bring you to a company’s non-discrimination policies.
    • Look at job postings: Employers will often put their non-discrimination policies at the end of job postings. You can look for language like “we are an equal opportunity employer” or “we encourage minorities to apply.”
    • Look at company websites: You can also go through an employer’s website. If you are overwhelmed by the amount of content on the website, searching the page for “gender” or “sexual orientation” can bring you to the right section.
    • Contact the company: If you are comfortable doing so, you can call or email the company and ask them if they have a non-discrimination policy and where can you find it. You can usually find a company’s phone number or email address on their website under the “contact us” section.
    • Find out if the company has LGBTQ+ networks or affinity groups: The presence of these groups indicates that the company is a more inclusive place to work. Being a part of these groups can help you feel more heard and comfortable being your true self at your workplace.
    • Look at the company’s benefits: More inclusive companies will usually have health coverage for transgender individuals. It can be very telling of a employer’s attitudes towards LGBTQ+ employees if their health coverage does not include transgender employees. To see if a company has transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage, you can reach out to the HR department at the company and ask what health insurance they provide. If the company does not have an HR department, you can find the company’s general email or phone number on their website under the “contact us” section and ask them. Once you have this information, contact the health insurance provider to find out if they provide coverage to transgender people. You can also look to see if the health insurance policy’s explanation of spouse includes same sex spouses and if it provides benefits to domestic partners.
    • Ask: If inclusion is important to you, ask during the job interview straightforward questions to gauge just how inclusive the company actually is. A strongly inclusive company will have examples of workplace policies, benefits, and organizations. However, be aware that asking about inclusion may also open you up to discrimination.

    Examples Of Inclusive And Non-inclusive Language

    Consider Your language.

    Language is important. It can help people feel included and protected. Yet by the same token, language can also exclude and alienate. Something as simple as a “hey guys,” might discourage teammates from participating fully in a group discussion. Below you can see some excellent examples of inclusive language, and some examples of language that some may find hurtful or exclusive.

    Inclusive terms

    • Hi all, folks, team, friends, team, everybody, everyone, or specific terms like customers, clients, employees
    • Invite your partners, spouses to the event
    • Chair, chairperson, door attendant, bartender, server etc
    • Humankind
    • Best person for the job
    • The person in the green shirt
    • Sexual orientation, sexuality
    • Gender identity
    • Trans, trans person, transgender person, trans man, trans woman
    • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer (a reclaimed slur term that many people identify with, but others find offensive)
    • Employees should read guidance carefully

    Not inclusive terms

    • Hi guys, ladies, gentlemen
    • Invite your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife to the event
    • Chairman, doorman, barman, barmaid, waiter, waitress etc
    • Mankind
    • Best man for the job
    • The man in the green shirt
    • Sex (mistaking sex for gender)
    • Transgendered, transwoman, transman
    • Decided to be/become a man or woman
    • Homosexuals
    • The man in the green shirt
    • Each employee should read his guidance carefully

    Creating Inclusive Workplace- For Employers

    Creating an LGTBQ inclusive workplace is the right thing to do. However, it also makes business sense, too.

    Inclusive companies open their door to a larger pool of talented, capable employees. In fact according to the Guardian’s Workforce 2020 report, nearly 12 million Americans identify as LGBTQ. 68% of American workers strongly agree it’s important for an employer to create an inclusive workplace culture.

    Yet, many companies are uncertain wear to start. Below we highlight some tips for employers to create an inclusive environment where employees can thrive:

    • Update Policies And Ensure Inclusive Benefits:
    • Rainbows on your company website and positive culture are well and good, but ultimately companies need to put their money where their mouths are.

      A company cannot- and is not- inclusive if they have exclusive policies and benefits that harm their LGBTQ+ employees. Similarly, a company cannot be inclusive if it allows discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation, and other negative employee interactions towards marginalized employees.

      SHRM’s guidelines on LGTBQ inclusive policies and benefits is a great place to start reading and revising your workplace policies.

    • Train On Inclusivity In Language: The section above highlights inclusive and non-inclusive language. However, employees are unlikely to make these changes on their own unless provided proper guidance.

      Workplaces will need to provide clear policies, guidance, and modeling to ensure inclusive language is the norm- and not the exception- at your company.

    • Hire A Diversity And Inclusion Specialist: Not only can they work with your Human Resources team to craft exceptional policies, they can also hold workshops to ensure all employees receive appropriate training.

      Training on LGBTQ inclusion should not be a once and done event. It should be required for all new hires. Similarly, it should be held on an annual basis to keep it fresh in employees’ minds.

    • Conclusion On Creating An Inclusive Workplace

      Ultimately, no individual should be forced to proactively seek or fight for an inclusive work environment. All workplaces should be inclusive and welcoming.

      However, until laws catch up with compassion and common sense, these tips and guidelines can help you find a company worth working for. More than that, they can help you be a positive force for change at your employer.

      Not every employee or job seeker has the privilege to be selective during their job search or the power to have their voices heard. However, that makes it even more important for those with the power and privilege to put them for good use and advocate for others.

      Ally Employers and managers should take the lead in creating an inclusive workplace.

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Kathy Morris

Kathy is the head of content at Zippia with a knack for engaging audiences. Prior to joining Zippia, Kathy worked at Gateway Blend growing audiences across diverse brands. She graduated from Troy University with a degree in Social Science Education.

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Topics: Get The Job, Guides