Businesses have been implementing measures to protect LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer) individuals in the workplace. It is evident that when employees can be their true selves at work, they perform better and feel more involved. Studies indicate that openly expressing one's identity leads to higher job satisfaction, stronger commitment to staying, and greater emotional support from colleagues. On the other hand, staying hidden and concealing one's true self has negative consequences for both the individual and the company.
In the past ten years, organisations across various industries have made significant progress in providing support for employees who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and fostering an inclusive work environment. Despite this progress, there are still many LGBT individuals who opt not to disclose their sexual orientation at work and kept their identities undisclosed in the office.
Many LGBT individuals still face genuine concerns about homophobia, exclusion, and potential discrimination that can hinder their career advancement. Surprisingly, research shows that gay and lesbian job seekers are 5% less likely to receive a job interview compared to heterosexual applicants with similar qualifications and background. To understand how to overcome these barriers, reduce workplace discrimination, and provide better support for LGBT employees, we got in touch with industry experts and discovered some valuable insights:
Harness real-life stories to educate
Real-life stories provide a distinct viewpoint when it comes to tackling social issues, fostering inclusivity, and questioning stereotypes. By humanising abstract ideas, they enable individuals to establish deeper connections. Furthermore, real-life stories have the power to challenge preconceived notions and biases. They create opportunities for individuals to empathise and gain a fresh perspective by experiencing the world through someone else's eyes. Hence, Godrej Industries’ initiative Open Hearts Open Minds, focuses on utilising real-life stories to raise awareness regarding appropriate language and behaviour towards LGBTQ+ colleagues.
“To foster a diverse and inclusive atmosphere, we conduct programs that promote attitude transformation, such as pilot initiatives and the inclusion of gig workers from various backgrounds. One of our key initiatives, Open Hearts Open Minds, involves sharing real-life stories to increase awareness about proper language and behaviour towards LGBTQ+ colleagues.We have also implemented several measures to create a welcoming workplace for our queer employees. Our Gender Affirmation Policy and Gender Transition Guidelines support employees throughout their transition journey, and we have a Gender Neutral Anti-Sexual Harassment policy in place,” said Ms Shefali Kohli, Group Head - Strategic Rewards and People Process, Godrej Industries.
Foster a bias-free ecosystem
In a bias-free ecosystem, individuals are empowered to express their true selves without fear of judgment or discrimination. It allows for the free exchange of ideas, fosters innovation, and encourages collaboration among diverse teams. This creates a positive and inclusive work culture where everyone feels valued, respected, and motivated to perform at their best. Srinivas PM, Head, Human Resources, P&G India focuses on nurturing an inclusive ecosystem for all employees.
“At P&G, we continuously work towards creating a workplace that enables everyone to bring their true authentic selves to work every day. We have equipped our people on how to handle coming out conversations, by leveraging relevant occasions like National Coming Out Day. We have witnessed the power of VISIBLE and VOCAL allyship. Be it through continued sensitisation, inclusive policies, best practices, creating an atmosphere of visible inclusion with indicators of allyship like Rainbow entrances or Ally stickers, gender-neutral infrastructure at the workplace, creating circle-of-trust, or going beyond the workplace and driving inclusion in the communities we serve. At P&G we truly CARE,” Srinivas told PM.
Create an allyship culture
In an allyship culture, employees are encouraged to educate themselves about different identities, experiences, and social issues. They strive to understand the challenges faced by their colleagues and take steps to actively listen, learn, and empathise. Allies work to dismantle systemic barriers and biases that may hinder the success and well-being of their coworkers, believes Sunita Rebecca Cherian, Chief Culture Officer, Wipro Limited.
“At Wipro, we strive to ingrain inclusion and diversity into our culture. Progress happens as LGBTQ+ inclusivity transpires into our policies, hiring practices, and internal systems. We encourage every employee to be an ally and foster a safe environment where everyone can be their authentic selves. Collectively, we recognise the importance of a supportive workplace for all employees, irrespective of their gender identity and sexual orientation. Concretely, we have expanded visibility and awareness by organising community events beyond Pride month. Recently, our global email signature template evolved to include pronoun placeholders. We also reiterate our unconditional support publicly and regularly,” she explained.
Gender identity disclosure support
It is also crucial that firms offer thorough training and education to all employees, managers, and leaders on LGBTQ inclusion, sensitivity, and diversity right from the time they join an organisation. This initiative acts as a catalyst, sowing the seeds of understanding, empathy, and awareness throughout the workplace. By equipping everybody with this knowledge, HRs creates a solid foundation for a harmonious and inclusive environment, explained Anjali Byce, CHRO at STL.
“Once employees disclose their gender identity, HR should provide information, resources, and support networks for LGBTQ employees. This may include Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), LGBTQ employee resource groups, access to counseling services, etc. HR should review existing policies and procedures to ensure they are inclusive and nondiscriminatory towards LGBTQ employees. This may involve updating policies related to anti-discrimination, harassment, dress code, benefits, and accommodations,” she added.
Embrace openness and active listening
When openness and active listening are embraced, communication becomes a two-way street. It promotes collaboration, creativity, and innovation as individuals are more likely to share their unique insights and ideas. It also helps in resolving conflicts by ensuring that all parties feel heard and valued. That’s why Sargam Dhawan Bhayana, Director, Planet Herbs Lifesciences,Tressmart Marketing Pvt Ltd and Paul Penders Botanicals, consider it as an important factor in creating a non-judgmental space where everyone's voice is respected.
“To create a safe and inclusive environment when an LGBTQ employee comes out at work it is significant to prioritise open communication and active listening. Encourage the employee to share their preferred pronouns and any specific needs or concerns they may have. Respect their confidentiality and only disclose information on a need-to-know basis. Provide resources and support networks, such as LGBTQ employee resource groups or external organisations. By fostering a culture of acceptance and support, HR can play a vital role in promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” he advised.
Honour LGBTQ+ courage
Recognising courage can take the form of celebrating LGBTQ+ milestones, such as Pride Month, and creating opportunities for LGBTQ+ employees to share their stories and experiences. It can involve highlighting LGBTQ+ role models and leaders within the organisation and showcasing the contributions and achievements of LGBTQ+ individuals, suggested Aanchal Mahotra Gupta, Co-founder, amág Beauty.
“At amág Beauty, we celebrate the courage and authenticity of our LGBTQ+ employees. When an employee takes the important step of coming out at work, we embrace their true self with open arms and unwavering support. Our commitment to inclusivity extends to every member of our diverse workforce. We believe that by fostering an environment of acceptance and respect, we create a space where everyone can thrive. Together, we stand united, breaking down barriers and building a workplace where LGBTQ+ individuals can flourish and contribute their unique perspectives, talents, and experiences. We are proud to be an ally, advocating for equality and celebrating the beautiful tapestry of our team,” she shared.