Pride Month is just a beginning for companies to foster more inclusive behavior at work.
June is dedicated to the observance and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. But most companies can use their Pride Month efforts to improve inclusive behavior throughout the year.
“It’s so huge to challenge people’s thinking and assumptions, and open up a psychologically safe workplace for all communities,” says Maggie Smith, VP of Human Resources at Traliant. “Everyone is responsible for a safe culture.”
It’s important for the LGBTQ+ community, which is underrepresented in the workplace across industries and professional levels. According to research from McKinsey, 5.1% of women and 3.9% of men in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ+. Yet, just 1.6% of managers are women and 2.8% of are men who identify as LGBTQ+.
The percentage of representation decreases substantially as we go up the corporate ladder. That can lead to further isolation in a population that might feel it doesn’t belong.
Consequences for exclusion
Workplaces face consequences when any underrepresented population feels slighted – and it’s especially true for the LGBTQ+ community. About 20% of LGBTQ+ employees have avoided their job or flat-out quit because they didn’t feel welcomed and accepted, according to research from The Human Rights Campaign. Those are often great employees walking out the door because the environment wasn’t kind.
What’s more, about 45% of LGBTQ+ employees have experienced unfair treatment at work, according to research from UCLA’s School of Law Williams Institute. One in ten faced discrimination in their careers.
“In a diverse world, we need to treat others as they would like to be treated. In order to do this, we need to know more about who they are and the background from which they come. We need to listen and understand. We need to make the unfamiliar familiar,” says Nichelle Grant, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Siemens USA, which uses its Courageous Conversations program as a catalyst for creating a more inclusive workplace.
Here are four ways to foster more inclusive behavior during Pride Month and beyond.
Create opportunities to connect
If you don’t have a formal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program, consider implementing one that includes time and space devoted to Pride Month and the LGBTQ+ community. Still, you don’t need a formal program to start conversations.
Invite employees to informal, voluntary training and/or conversations that can boost understanding and inclusion.
For instance, at Traliant, employees have the opportunity to join in the LGBTQ+ Inclusion Course. In that, they explain terminology that might not be well-known to all employees and how to use it properly. The acronym LGBTQ+ represents a broad spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities. And using proper terms, including preferred pronouns, shows respect and helps people communicate effectively.
They also give a history of how Pride Month started and include information on Juneteenth, the June 19th federal holiday to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.
And if you wonder if employees will want to participate, Siemens USA is an example of the power behind creating the opportunities: Four months after they launched the Courageous Conversations program – as a way to engage employees and teams on diverse topics – more than 1,200 employees at all levels of the organization joined in more than 100 conversations, Grant reports. And it’s still growing.
Create psychologically safe spaces
“While real progress has been made over the years, for many LGBTQ+ employees, workplace issues and challenges remain – such as fear of coming out at work and hearing anti-gay jokes, comments or slurs,” Smith says.
And that’s why it’s critical for employers to create and foster psychologically safe spaces. LGBTQ+ employees need to be able to bring their authentic selves to the workplace so they can do their best work.
In many cases, that can mean training. Employees don’t always know how they can make the workplace inclusive and welcoming to LGBTQ+ colleagues. Smith suggests town hall meetings where leaders can talk about what it means to be an ally.
To further that, you might include an anonymous Q&A feature, where employees submit questions ahead of time. It’s helpful because when one person actually submits a question, it’s likely another dozen also wondered the same.
If Smith sees several similar questions come in on Traliant’s anonymous, digital question box, she and other leaders know to address it companywide quickly. (This goes for recurring questions across the gamut of HR issues.)
Ask, don’t assume
Leaders don’t want to make all the decisions on making the workplace more inclusive and helping employees feel like they belong. Reason: What you see as an issue may not be one. And you might have a blind eye to important issues.
Ask employees in all underrepresented groups, “What are your thoughts on … ?” You can address anything from situations you think are issues to benefits to initiatives you want to implement.
A good place to start: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). If groups of people with similar interests and personal insights are talking or concerned about a topic, it’s likely something you want to react to.
Fostering a more inclusive workplace is important, but that doesn’t mean it will come easily. The best intentions to improve belonging won’t always work out.
“Acknowledge that things are going to go wrong sometimes and be vulnerable to learn,” Smith says. “But don’t be afraid to take some action.”
The key might be to start small. Offer all employees opportunities talk about or train on understanding and using inclusive language. Plan an event focused on LGBTQ+ education. Have a Pride party (nearly everyone likes a reason to celebrate).
From there, you can build a stronger program that’s active all year with DEI initiatives and learning opportunities.
“Then, make sure your website reflects what your company represents,” Smith suggests.
You might include information about your inclusive Employee Assistance Programs, active ERGs and photos of the DEI events you’ve held throughout the year. Job candidates, customers and potential investors are increasingly interested in knowing how inclusive companies are.
Bottom line, according to Grant, “The importance of inclusion quickly connects to the actions and ideas expressed to see change happen.”