This article was written by Caitlin Copple Masingill and appeared on B The Change.
It’s probably the best time in history to be LGBTQ at work. As of 2010, nearly 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies included sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in non-discrimination policies.
Now that marriage equality is a reality in all 50 states, more employees in same-sex relationships feel comfortable bringing a spouse or partner to the office holiday party or awards gala.
Yet despite all the progress, the stats remain chilling when it comes to the obstacles that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people face at work and in society.
Consider these facts:
- Between 15 and 43 percent of LGBT workers have experienced being fired, denied promotions, or harassed on the job due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
- A 2013 study by Pew Research Center found that 21 percent of LGBT respondents had been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay or promotions.
- Transgender people face even higher rates of discrimination and harassment, with as many as 78 percent experiencing at least one type of mistreatment at work because of their gender identity.
- Fifty percent of LGBT people (myself included) live in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Armed with some context on why some LGBTQ employees may feel vulnerable at work, here are five ways you can help create a culture that values all workers and encourages us to bring our full selves to the office.
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1. Check your policy
If you have an employee manual, then most likely you already have a non-discrimination policy. Make sure that the section that says no one can be fired for reasons that have nothing to do with job performance (such as race, ethnicity, disability, religious beliefs, etc.) also includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign offers sample policies if you’re unsure where to start.
2. Benefits for all
Does your company only offer paid paternity leave? That’s not very helpful for the lesbian woman whose wife just gave birth. Paid parental leave policies remove hetero-normative language and treat all families (including single parents) equally. Make sure you don’t unintentionally include a definition of “family” that can be used to exclude people who are more vulnerable to being underinsured.
3. Advocate in your state
As mentioned above, 50 percent of LGBT people live in states without employment discrimination protections. Is your state on the list? What about your city? Many cities in anti-LGBT states (including Boise, where I live!) have taken steps to advance equality with local non-discrimination policies. Has yours? How can your business help with these local and statewide efforts? If you’re a marketing firm, donate a logo. If you produce apparel, donate T-shirts. You get the idea.
4. It’s true what they say about assumptions
You may think you know what a gay man or a lesbian looks like, but do you really? What about a bi person, a high femme, or a transgender man? Most straight, cis-gendered (that means your gender identity matches your birth sex) people are woefully clueless about this stuff. So get to know your LGBT colleagues as people. (And yes, the stereotype that we love a good brunch is totally true.) Ask respectful questions if you’re curious, especially when it comes to using accurate pronouns. Don’t assume that one gay person speaks for all gay people everywhere — tokens are for arcade games, people!
5. Get involved locally
Most companies pride themselves on giving back. If your company prioritizes ending homelessness, make sure your employees and local charities understand that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ even though they only comprise 7 percent of the population. If you live in the Northwest, Pride Foundation is a great place to start volunteering with grantee organizations or selecting scholarship recipients.
You might also want to check out, If You Have a Great Team and Want to Keep Them, Here’s What You Need to Know