Written for EO by Warren Fowler, a writer at Resumes Planet.
The past several years have inspired great social changes across countries and business sectors. In many ways, we’re more liberated than ever before, but we can’t get complacent: We still have work to do to fulfill our responsibility to make society more equal for everyone.
Sadly, workplace discrimination remains an issue. I’ve faced it myself in the form of indiscrete interview questions concerning my personal choices and my decision to be who I am.
American law still allows businesses to refuse service to some customers, and “No Gays Allowed” signs are still a thing. The European Union hasn’t incorporated transgender identity in its anti-discriminatory legislation. In practice, laws protect the LGBTQ community from being refused a job, getting fired or being harassed by colleagues over their sexual orientation.
But in reality, it’s still happening. The annual report from SOShomophobie, a French national association that fights discrimination against the LGBTQ community, showed a 19.5 percent increase in testimonies in 2016 of which 76 percent of testimonies concerned transgender people. Of the testimonies, 42 percent concerned daily discrimination experienced not only in public spaces and from relatives or friends, but also at work or at school.
To be fair: Many companies are adopting policies to protect these workers.
Unfortunately, business owners may believe their company culture is welcoming and safe, and miss signs of trouble. Maybe all the right policies are in place and everything looks good on paper, but workers are still facing discrimination.
To ensure your company is genuinely creating an LGBTQ-friendly workplace, follow these five basic tips:
1. Develop a Clear Policy
Do you simply want to claim that your business is LGBTQ-friendly? Of course not! Then you must develop an actual non-discriminatory policy that clarifies your specific approach. Put it in writing and be sure that each employee understands it.
2. Offer Hiring Opportunities to the LGBTQ Community
Make it clear that your business welcomes applications from LGBTQ people. Clarify that they won’t be treated differently during the hiring process. Members of this community offer talent and expertise, and don’t expect any advantages if they don’t qualify. They simply expect equal treatment, and your willingness to provide it.
One way to show your welcoming business environment that treats everyone equally regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation is to partner with organizations such as EUROUT, which connects LGBTQ students with MBA degrees to career opportunities.
3. Punish Signs of LGBTQ+ Harrassment
Alanis Claude, career advisor at Resumes Planet, explains that although companies sometimes claim to be LGBT-friendly, they fail to deliver in practice: “Many businesses have policies that promote equality. Still, when LGBTQ workers report bullying and harassment based on their sexuality, there are zero efforts to sanction such behaviors. I’ve had many situations when LGBTQ people were looking at new job opportunities because they faced harassment in their old jobs.”
As a leader, you don’t even need to wait for a report. If you notice unwelcoming behavior or insulting comments from any employee, you must penalize such unprofessional behavior. Clearly show that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated. Advise your workers that, whatever their personal beliefs, it is their job to act with professional decorum when they step inside the office.
Among the most popular EO member benefits is MyEO, a program that allows EO members to join groups or events that connect directly to their interests and passions. Hear from Jeff Smith, of EO Los Angeles, on the launch of MyEO LGBTQ+, a MyEO group whose dual purpose is to embrace diversity and promote inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, in addition to recruiting LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs to EO.
4. Show Support to the Community
When 8,000 Apple workers celebrated San Francisco Pride, it was proof of Apple’s non-discriminatory policies being brought to fruition. It’s pretty simple to do in your company—just encourage employees to support LGBTQ events in your locality, and develop activities surrounding them with full company support.
However, clarify to your workforce that participation is optional and don’t reprimand those who opt out. Support for the community should be on a voluntary basis, but employees must know that the company’s policies are supportive.
These widely reported events spread a positive message about the LGBTQ community. When you celebrate them, it’s noteworthy.
5. Educate Employees about Human Rights
It works both ways: You cannot impose beliefs on anyone, so if some of your employees have opinions you don’t agree with, it’s their right. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs. However, any sign of intolerance towards LGBTQ people in the workplace must be addressed and condemned at once.
Education is the key. A presentation on human rights can be a positive experience. Explain that everyone has the right to be who they are, and even if we don’t embrace or support such decisions, the bare minimum we owe every individual is tolerance of their choices.
Many people develop discriminatory opinions that stem from a lack of information or experience. When you make an effort to inform them and ask for their open minds, opinions can shift. If that doesn’t happen, the anti-discriminatory policies in your organization will still have the situation under control.
LGBTQ people face professional challenges beyond the imagination of those outside the community. Continuous workplace harassment or discrimination is unacceptable. Encourage your workforce to move beyond antiquated opinions and celebrate diversity, talents and individual choices in every way, shape and form.