I’m extremely proud of Caiman Consulting for participating in the first annual Business of Pride event sponsored by the Puget Sound Business Journal a few weeks ago. As our city’s LGBTQ business leaders were recognized throughout the evening for their contributions to workplace equality for the LGBTQ community, I reflected on Pride Month, and how grateful I am to live in a city, and work for a company, where I can bring my entire self to the workplace without fear of discrimination or violence. But of course it hasn't always been that way, even here in progressive Seattle, and recent events show we still have far to go.
The designation of the month of June as Pride Month was born out of the June 28, 1969 Stonewall riots in response to police brutality during a raid at an LGBTQ bar in New York City. The day became known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day (or Stonewall Riots), which later led to week-long, and now month-long, international celebrations to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, recognize the contribution of LGBTQ people, and continue to draw attention to the eradication of discrimination everywhere.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are numerous US states with pending legislation discriminatory to LGBTQ people, and the Human Rights Watch identifies over 80 countries that criminalize same-sex relations --and even the mere discussion of LGBT rights -- with prison sentences, flogging, and even the death penalty. While we’re fortunate to live in a progressive country where LGBTQ laws and social perceptions have changed, the recent events in Orlando and discriminatory laws currently on the docket in many state capitals show we still have far to go.
Studies show that over 50% of workers still do not disclose their sexual identity in the workplace which can decrease productivity by 30%. Another study found that 42% of LGTBQ employees, and over 90% of transgender employees, have experienced discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Without non-discrimination policies, benefits, and resources for LGBTQ employees in the workplace, organizations will be unable to attract, empower, and retain the best talent and promote an inclusive, productive environment.
Benefits of having LGBTQ-inclusive policies include:
- Fostering a climate of openness and value of the LGBTQ individual.
- Decreasing fear, stress, lost work days, and exclusionary practices.
- Demonstrating an inclusive workplace to customers and clients.
- Increasing retention and productivity.
- Creating a zero tolerance policy for workplace discrimination.
- Enabling mentoring, resources, and training opportunities.
In short, if an employee has to hide who they are in fear of discrimination or ridicule, they will be so exhausted with fear, avoidance, and stress that they will never feel fully empowered or productive in the workplace. A workplace without benefits and policies for LGTBQ employees only opens to the door for an employee to feel more alienated, devalued, and disconnected from those around him/her. However, companies that promote an inclusive working environment empower their employees to bring their “whole selves” to work: resulting in higher productivity, job satisfaction, and retention.
So how can we all take steps toward a more inclusive workplace?
- Reach out to your LGBTQ coworkers. Put aside fear and stereotypes and assumptions. Start a conversation to listen and learn what’s important to them.
- Become an advocate/ally. Commit to not making or tolerating discriminatory jokes (FYI - saying “that’s so gay” is not OK). Don't allow discrimination in any form to occur. Champion changing workplace perceptions and foster inclusion and diversity. Press for LGBTQ benefits, policies, and resources with your employer.
Now more than ever we need a whole lot less of the divisive “Us vs. Them” and a whole lot more listening, understanding, and love. LGTBQ author and lecturer Brian McNaught summed it up best when he said: “everyone in the world seeks the same thing: to know, accept, and affirm their unique selves in an environment in which they will feel safe and valued.”
Your LGBTQ co-workers and friends have likely spent years worrying about how they will be perceived or accepted in personal and professional settings. Encourage them to continue to let their lights shine brightly by supporting them with compassion and understanding. It will make our workplace – and our world – a much brighter place!
Additional resources: The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion: Why the Workplace Environment for LGBT people Matters to Employers (Human Rights Committee’s 2014)