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5 Tips for Managing an LGBTQ+ Inclusive Workplace

Jun 17, 2022
Vanderbilt’s Gabrielle Lopiano on how managers can create an LGBTQ+ inclusive and accepting work environment

By Lacie Blankenship

Creating a workplace environment that is LGBTQ+ inclusive and accepting is not only the morally right thing to do, but it’s also a game-changer for business productivity. 

lgbtq+ inclusive article“The research is very clear. When LGBTQ+ people feel they need to conceal their identities at work, it takes up a lot of their mental and emotional capacities, which can harm their productivity,” says Gabrielle Lopiano, Assistant Professor of Management. “An inclusive workplace removes that burden and allows LGBTQ+ employees to fully immerse themselves in their work.”

Lopiano, an expert in stigma, identity management, workplace diversity, discrimination, and social hierarchy, shares 5 tips for managers to create and maintain an LGBTQ+ inclusive and accepting workplace. 

Adapt company policies with inclusion in mind.

Company policies lay the legal foundation for employee and employer expectations. It’s fairly common that these formalities feature non-inclusive language. One example is the use of ‘maternity’ and ‘paternity’ leave. Company leadership has the opportunity to improve this by changing gendered terms (i.e.: maternal/paternal leave) to nonbinary terms (i.e.: parental/family leave). Another example is spousal benefits. Companies should ensure that employees in same-sex relationships have the same protections and benefits that non-LGBTQ+ employees do.

Corporate leadership can also improve company policies by reevaluating the formal dress code. These types of policies often mention that men should wear a collared shirt and dress pants, and women should wear skirts, dresses, styled hair, etc. These guidelines are harmful to multiple marginalized groups because they set a biased standard of what professionalism looks like.

“I think that removing gendered language from formal policies is a really good first step,” says Lopiano. “Professionals should be mindful of the language they are using and what sort of gender norms they formally perpetuate in policies like written benefits packages and formal dress codes.” 

Align internal and external efforts. 

Performative allyship is not acceptable. Companies that adapt their logos for June but don’t take active measures for LGBTQ+ inclusivity are not authentic allies. Authentic allyship looks like supporting LGBTQ+ communities, advocating for equality and acceptance, changing policies, and reevaluating norms. LGBTQ-focused inclusion training and employee resource groups are additional ways to build workplace inclusion internally.

“A rainbow logo means very little if it isn’t backed by inclusive values and action. Failing to speak out against anti-LGBTQ legislation – or worse, actively supporting it – says a lot more about a company’s values than sponsoring a Pride event,” says Lopiano.

Encourage informal and interpersonal inclusion.

There’s a line between sharing and prying. Some people may not be comfortable sharing a lot of personal details at work, and others may be thrilled to share more. It is never appropriate to assume anything (pronouns, sexuality, identity, etc.) or pry. However, there is a balance that fosters inclusion.

Matching personal dialogues is a good way to approach this. As a general guideline, if someone shares about their significant other and refers to them with a specific noun, that’s how you can refer to them. Avoid walking on eggshells and match these dialogues; if someone tells you about their ‘wife,’ then it’s okay for you to ask about their wife. 

“Steering away from asking personal questions is a form of bias,” says Lopiano. “Make sure that LGBTQ+ colleagues are just as included in personal conversations at work. Ask them about their weekends!” 

Normalize preferred pronouns. 

Normalizing the sharing of preferred pronouns is a powerful implementation for fostering an LGBTQ+ inclusive environment. From onboarding onward, there are many opportunities to do this (i.e.: employee directories, name tags, email signatures, Zoom titles, etc.).

“It’s nice to see non-LGBTQ people disclosing their pronouns because it’s a signal that the organization as a whole is inclusive,” says Lopiano. 

Listen to others and welcome feedback.

There is vast room for improvement in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the business world. A key aspect of becoming more inclusive is to stay open-minded, listen to others, and welcome feedback. True leaders will proactively look for ways to include everyone and take action when new perspectives are presented. 

“I think it’s important to note that no one is looking for special treatment. The only agenda is to ensure that LGBTQ+ employees receive equal treatment as their non-LGBTQ+ peers,” says Lopiano.

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