My hometown of Auburn, New York celebrated its first ever Pride Month during June! I’ve never been prouder of my community. Each and every activity opened doors, heads, hearts and spirits for members of the local LGBTQ+ community. Of greatest importance was witnessing the healing that took place as these Auburn citizens felt welcomed, safe, and loved; some for the very first time by their hometown. It was truly a powerful experience.
I take great pride in being a recognized “Diversity Champion” in our region. Auburn’s Pride Month activities refocused me on diversity and inclusion. Gwen, Inc. specializes in programs and services that help leaders develop business strategies to demonstrate commitment to diversity and inclusion in companies. We work from a very inclusive definition of diversity that encompasses many characteristics that make us wonderfully human. However, as I engage in this work, I notice many companies struggle with providing support for employees who are openly members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ+) community.
I am inspired to write about this topic for two specific reasons. First, several of my immediate family members and friends belong to the LGBTQ+ community. These beloved members of my family are among the best and brightest leaders I know. Their professional lives are successful, and they achieve this success in spite of discrimination faced because of who they are and who they love. Second, ongoing stories about gay teen suicide are quite disturbing. I am reminded that teens who thrive despite discrimination and bullying become adults who join workforces across the country. Given this, it is my opinion that this is a business matter that must be handled within the law and with respect. Ultimately the leader’s goal is to create a workplace that is safe for all employees regardless of race, age. gender, creed, religion, political point of view and sexual orientation.
Many leaders tell me achieving this business goal is challenging due to personal beliefs. It is difficult for some to understand workforce challenges faced by LGBTQ+ employees. I challenge them to lead from a “None of Us Is Smarter Than All of Us” model. This perspective inspires leaders to engage employee diversity as an asset and not a liability.
Leaders embracing this philosophy take responsibility for ensuring it is safe to be “out” in the workplace. There are laws requiring leaders to ensure safety for LGBTQ+ employees. However, there are additional actions leaders can take to ensure safety. Each year Diversity Inc. Magazine recognizes private sector companies with outstanding diversity practices. Following are three best practices used by many of these companies to create cultures and policies that support LGBTQ+ employees.
Implement Non- Discrimination Policies
These policies state very clearly that discrimination based on race, age. gender. creed, religion, political point of view and sexual orientation will not be tolerated in the workplace. Human Resource teams collaborate with leaders ensuring policies align with state and federal laws. In addition, they support leaders as they educate the workforce by providing diversity education that includes sexual orientation as one of the focus areas.
Create LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Groups
These groups provide information and support for LGBTQ+ employees. This is a company approved affinity group focused on workforce needs of LGBTQ+ employees.
Identify “Safe Spaces” Throughout the Company
“Safe Spaces” are designated areas with staff available to provide information, support and technical assistance in addressing workplace issues connected to sexual orientation.