Diversity efforts often carry a potential threat of tokenism, which becomes the reality courtesy ad-hoc strategies that lack a holistic approach. Especially when it comes to LGBT+ talent, stopping at hiring and sensitisation workshops won’t escape tokenism. There is a need for a more holistic approach.
There are no two ways about DEI being a journey and not an overnight or short-term scalable transformation. It is a shift in policies, mindsets, behaviours, practices and mental models that guide decision-making both at the business front as well as people.
The dialogue on LGBT+ inclusion has garnered significant attention in the past few years, and continues to take place with not enough action and change on the ground. According to a 2020 BCG study, 40% of LGBT+ employees are not out at work, and 26% of these individuals wish they could be out.
Further, 75% of LGBT+ talent reported experiencing at least one negative interaction related to their LGBTQ identity at work in the past year, with 41% experiencing more than ten types of such interactions.
What is delaying the progress? What are the gaps in existing efforts? And how do you ensure your LGBT+ inclusion approach is indeed holistic with no loopholes and only opportunities to grow?
It’s one thing to make a commitment and another to execute a well-crafted strategy that enables delivering on those commitments and enables transformation. DEI has multiple layers within the multiple segments it caters to.
In this piece, we identify the leak in existing strategies and narrow down the five elements that demand immediate action to drive holistic transformation in LGBT+ inclusion at the workplace.
Holistic inclusion: The missing piece in the approach to LGBT+ inclusion
Despite multiple conversations on boosting queer diversity at the workplace, employers struggle to sustain the efforts once representation is achieved, causing the diverse workforce to leave. This leak in DEI efforts needs to be fixed with a more holistic approach to enhancing LGBT+ inclusion at the workplace.
There is no playbook on the right strategy to ensure success. DEI is a journey, one that everyone is on together, yet under different constructs and ecosystems. Nonetheless, there are ways to ensure that your strategy is foolproof to avoid leaks, enable progress and open to improvising on-the-go.
Often the approach to LGBT+ diversity at the workplace is three-fold: Hiring, Sensitisation, and Policies and Infrastructure. However, this approach must now move from being process-centric to people-centric.
In other words, there is a need for employers to step away from segmenting the approach as per processes and instead look at enhancing LGBT+ diversity as an experience that caters to all touchpoints in the queer employee’s lifecycle.
Right from how they perceive your employer brand as a potential talent, to the hiring and onboarding process, team culture, performance reviews, career progression, to exit, and the many other layers that lie within these buckets. Such an approach would require a lot more investment of human and financial capital to empower the workforce to become one that is aware, inclusive and committed to evolution.
Talking to People Matters about enabling holistic inclusion, Pride Circle’s Co-Founder, Srini Ramaswamy said, “At Pride Circle, we help organisations tackle DEI challenges in a holistic, strategic, programmed manner, with measurable goals and clearly defined objectives, engaging the entire organisation. We also help them with data points to track progress, include the people in driving the solution and bake in feedback.”
Srini noted a few basics that comprise holistic inclusion:
- Policies & Benefits
- Workplace Culture and Employee Engagement for psychological safety and belonging
- Affirmative Hiring – Jobs & Internships, Building the talent pipeline,
- Upskilling the community
- Supplier Diversity, working with LGBT+ owned businesses,
- Engaging with the larger community outside the workplace, using CSR as a tool for change and allyship across hierarchy in the company.
“Every step counts and everyone has a role to play to build a workplace where no one is left behind,” Srini added.
Five elements constituting a holistic approach to LGBT+ inclusion
While a process-driven approach was essential to hit the ground running on queer inclusion at the workplace, it is now time to evolve the approach and align organisational efforts with authentic inclusion at every employee touchpoint. Such an approach helps drive more impact and empowers the organisation in turn to carry sustainable inclusion over tokenistic and intermittent endeavours.
Taking cue from the basics shared by Srinin, here are five key elements that constitute a holistic approach to LGBT+ inclusion:
- Organisation readiness: The cultural maturity to embrace LGBT+ inclusion doesn’t just vary with organisations, but also with the multiple generations within an organisation. A BCG study found that straight employees under 35 (Gen-Z and millennials) are:
- 1.6 times more likely to know LGBTQ colleagues,
- 3.6 times more likely to join ally programs (where available), and
- 3 times more likely to find value in their LGBTQ colleagues being out, compared with older non-LGBTQ employees
As employers work on sensitisation and awareness trainings, they must tailor the approach to meet talent where their level of understanding stands, not where it is assumed to be.
- Role fitment clarity: Are you hiring for 100% fitment or coachable roles? It is essential to establish the fitment the organisation is looking for to ensure the recruiting team is equipped to identify the right talent for the right roles. Such clarity is crucial to ensure meritocracy in diversity hiring and to also explore whether the organisation has inclusive coaches and learning systems in place to enable training where needed.
- Invest in building talent pipeline: Having identified the lack of women representation in STEM roles, leaders and changemakers recognised the need for STEM education to drive greater participation of women in STEM fields, equipping them with the knowledge, skills and experience to build successful careers for themselves.
As committed as organisations are to drive gender equity, they must ensure adapting a similar approach and customising it for queer talent to boost access to education and economic progress. Internships and fellowships are some of the ways that organisations can leverage to make a difference.
Beyond talent pipeline, it remains crucial to ensure enabling queer talent to grow up the ladder. A McKinsey 2020 study found that the representation of LGBT+ women starts to drop off beginning with the first promotion to the manager level. In fact, as per findings, compared with straight women, LGBT+ women are also more likely to report that their gender has played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion, or a chance to get ahead.
“Three in 20 LGBT+ women believe that their sexual orientation will negatively affect their career advancement at work. For LGBT+ men, this number is even higher, at six in 20,” the study found.
- Engaging with the larger community: Is your strategy focused on building just an inclusive workplace or are you committed to driving change on a broader societal level? This will reflect not just in financial contributions but how you are embedding your DEI lens into business offerings. language, and communicating that stace to the society. This could be as basic as updating the gender pronoun field in job applications/ feedback and other forms.
Further, are you engaging with the queer community to upskill and equip them to take charge of their lives? DEI trainings is one way to sensitise the workforce, another is educating through experience. Does your corporate social responsibility strategy include campaigns for the upliftment of the LGBT+ community? By empanelling NGOs that specialise in enabling access to education and employment for underprivileged and ostracised queer population, you can provide a more experiential understanding to the workforce, in addition to also supporting the NGOs and LGBT+ community.
- Policies/benefits: Inclusive policies and benefits are a hygiene element for queer inclusion at the workplace. Talent today expects employers to cater to their basic well-being needs, and these basics vary with individuals. If organisations intend to be inclusive they must ensure these basics are met through their bouquet of benefits offerings as well as policies.
Speaking of being inclusive of employee needs, simply introducing gender-neutral policies isn’t enough. Employers must ensure they offer all employees as well as their families an equitable access to organisational benefits and also communicate the same through leadership. If you want to truly engage and retain queer talent, you must recognise and incorporate policies and benefits core to their overall well-being and progress.