· Comment

No tokenism: here's how you can really help LGBT+ staff

It's easy to post a rainbow flag on social media for Pride month, but this act alone isn't going to help the fight for equality. You don't want to make a public gesture if you don't have a supportive environment to go with it.

To create good relations with your staff, have better retention rates, and avoid legal risk, you need to go beyond tokenism. Here's how to get started.

Creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces:

Top employers for LGBT+ inclusion in 2022 listed by Stonewall

Same-sex parents need inclusivity drives

Twenty years on: the continuing fight for LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace


Learn about LGBT+ employment rights

First, make sure you know your legislation. There are certain laws in place to protect staff from discrimination. The main law you need to know is the Equality Act 2010.

This protects people from being discriminated against because of these protected characteristics: age, sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity.

This law applies - in any public and business setting - to all workers, not just employees.

It's important that staff know their legal rights and you understand your legal obligation to uphold this legislation in your workplace. Or, you risk facing discrimination claims down the line.

The Equality Act 2010 outlines the types of discrimination that staff are protected from:

  • Direct discrimination - you are treated unfavourably because of any protected characteristics
  • Indirect discrimination - you are at a disadvantage because of workplace policies or ways of working that discriminate against or exclude any protected characteristics
  • Harassment - you are offended, humiliated, or degraded by someone because of any protected characteristics
  • Victimisation  -  you are treated badly for making or supporting a discrimination claim

As you can see from the above, there are different ways that someone can experience discrimination. It doesn't just happen directly. You could indirectly discriminate without realising.

For example, it could be something as simple as how your system is set up. You might not allow staff to update their details - but this might prevent trans staff from being able to use their preferred name.


Review your policies

Review your workplace policies to make sure there are no inclusion barriers. It's key to look at your policies on parental leave and adoption, and other family policies. Make sure they're inclusive of all gender identities and sexualities.

You should also have a policy on equality and diversity that outlines:

  • The Equality Act 2010
  • Your attitude towards equality and discrimination
  • The work environment you want to create
  • Tour zero-tolerance for discrimination and what will happen if anyone discriminates i.e. disciplinary action

You can offer more support by having a separate policy on LGBT+ inclusion - and practice what you preach. Have a process in place so if there is an incident of hate speech and discrimination, staff know how to report it.

Make sure the language you use in your policies is inclusive too. 


Mind your language

The language you use is important - not just in your policies, but in how you communicate at work.

People use non-inclusive language every day, such as:

  • Gendered greetings - 'hey guys, ladies, gentlemen' - this excludes people who don't fall into a gender binary. It's better to say ‘hi all/folks/friends/everyone.'
  • Inviting people's girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, or husbands to work events - never assume that someone is heterosexual. It's best to say partner or spouse.
  • Gendered job roles and phrases - such as best man for the job, mankind, chairman or barman. Instead, say best person for the job, humankind, chairperson, or bartender.
  • Referring to someone's sexual preference - never refer to someone's sexuality or gender identity as a lifestyle choice or preference. Instead, say sexuality or sexual orientation.
  • Using the gendered pronouns he/she - instead, use the neutral they/them.


Back up your words with training and processes

So now you've got your policies in place and are using all the right words, what now? At the end of the day, words are just words. To make a real difference, you need to make sure that staff hear and understand your policies.

It's a good idea to back your words up with diversity training and robust processes.

Diversity training helps staff become aware of their own assumptions and prejudices. It stresses the importance of equality and diversity, and can also help you to boost awareness, build staff morale and stay legally compliant

And if staff feel victimised, how will you help? Make sure your staff know the processes you have in place to support them and that you will back up your words with action.


Alan Price is CEO at BrightHR