12 Ways to Become An Ally and Support LGBTQ+ Employees

While businesses have made great strides, half of LGBTQ+ employees continue to experience harassment or discrimination in the workplace. That’s why it’s essential to not just show solidarity but actively advocate for every member of the community.

That means going beyond hanging a rainbow in the window to changing your company culture from the inside out.

So, we’re offering some practical tips on how to foster diversity, equality, and inclusion at your business. That way you can be sure you’re not guilty of “rainbow washing” and truly supporting your LGBTQ+ employees.

1. Practice inclusive hiring

One of the first steps to show your support is by inviting LGBTQ+ employees onto your team. Here’s how you can prevent discrimination in hiring and signal to potential candidates that you’re an ally:

  • Job adverts: Write job descriptions that use gender-neutral pronouns and avoid assumptions. For example, say ‘looking for waitstaff’ not ‘waitresses’. You can focus on the skills and qualifications required rather than personal attributes.
  • Niche job boards: Advertise the open position on LGBTQ job sites like Pink Jobs and LGBT Connect. Candidates often browse them to find inclusive and supportive businesses.
  • Inclusive job applications: Offer multiple options for gender identity and pronouns including one to self-identify.
  • Unbiased interviews: Avoid asking any inappropriate or irrelevant questions like “Do you have a boyfriend?” or “Do you plan on having children?”. Candidates may feel forced to reveal personal details about themselves – even if they’re not members of the LGBTQ+ community!

2. Ensure you have diverse representation

To attract and build a diverse workforce, you also need to reflect these values in your branding. That means your website, social media, and marketing. These adverts not only appeal to customers but also signal to LGBTQ+ candidates that you’d be a supportive place to work.

One way is to include same-sex couples and parents in your advertising. At the risk of tokenism, you shouldn’t focus on them but picture them among your other customers. For example, a restaurant scene might have multiple diverse groups including an LGBTQ+ couple.

You can also show you’re an equal opportunities employer through your existing team. Every month, for example, you could spotlight a different employee on your social media. 

Again, the focus should be the story that staff want to tell and not their gender identities. If your team is truly diverse, their unique identities will shine through.

3. Be responsible for your own education

The first step to becoming an ally is teaching yourself about LGBTQ+ matters. You can find resources on the LGBTQ+ experience at work and learn the significance of certain words, events, and iconography. For instance, we celebrate Pride Month in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969 when police clashed with protesters.

Watching videos and reading material from the LGBTQ+ perspective can also help you empathize better. Look for media that critics praise for their accurate depiction and positive portrayals of characters. 

It’s important not to leave it to your LGBTQ+ employees to teach you. While encouraging an open dialogue is good, asking questions may make them feel pressured to reveal personal information. They also didn’t sign up for this responsibility when they took the job.

4. Create a supportive work culture

Only 35% of LGBTQ+ employees say they can be their authentic selves at work. This goes further than just hiding their sexual orientation and gender identity. Closeted individuals may avoid social events, change their appearance, or stay silent during water cooler talk.

Feeling forced to behave this way takes a toll on staff’s mental and emotional well-being, according to scientific research.

Showing that you’re an ally can make LGTQ+ employees feel more psychologically safe at work, even if they still don’t identify themselves. You can do this by simply expressing support for their community and condemning bigotry when it comes up. Then team members will know if and when they’re ready, they can share more about themselves with you.

You can also celebrate LGBTQ+ events and milestones to show your allyship. To avoid looking performative, don’t just limit yourself to Pride Month. For example, you can keep updated about LGBTQ+ legislation and recognize legal victories for the community. 

5. Introduce comprehensive non-discrimination policies

As well as showing your support, you need to protect LGBTQ+ employees from discrimination and harassment. That means giving your staff clear guidelines on what’s appropriate and what’s not in the workplace. 

This is an area where many businesses are falling short as 57% of LGBT+ employees wish their job had clearer policies.

In your employee handbook, you can cover the following areas:

  • A statement that discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are strictly prohibited
  • What these incidents look like
  • How to report them
  • How you will address the claims
  • Any disciplinary action you’ll take against employees
  • How the team should handle discrimination or harassment from customers 

Once you’ve shared the policies with your team, you can require their signatures to show they understand. You’ll correct some inappropriate behavior before it happens and have somewhere to refer employees if they make mistakes.

This will also cover you on the sad and hopefully rare occasions you need to terminate staff due to discrimination or harassment.

You can include other underrepresented and vulnerable groups in your policies as part of a wider DEI strategy. Employees may fall into multiple categories and want to see that you’re practicing intersectionality where you acknowledge everyone has different experiences. 

6. Ask employees to report uncomfortable or unsafe events

Let’s go into a little more detail on the complaints procedure we mentioned in the section above. 

The success of your policies hinges on employees speaking up about discrimination or harassment. However, many may feel reluctant to draw more attention to themselves and risk retaliation. That’s especially when the perpetrator is a long-term colleague or a loyal customer.

One way to get around this is by having clear communication channels. For example, you can use a team chat that lets you message individuals, custom groups, or the entire team. That means staff can choose whether to approach you one-on-one or involve colleagues who were also on shift.

For truly sensitive issues, you can offer a box for team members to drop anonymous complaints into. Make sure it’s in a secluded, private area so everyone feels safe to use it.

7. Offer inclusive, relevant benefits

Standard benefits plans don’t always accommodate members of the LGBT+ community. To acknowledge their extra challenges and show your support, you can offer more inclusive perks.

For example, many programs tie spousal benefits to marriage and parental leave to gender. That means same-sex couples can struggle to get the family health insurance and time off they need for their growing families. You can choose plans that cover your staff and their loved ones regardless of gender or marital status.

LGBTQ+ employees also often require benefits that other staff may not. Transgender team members may need gender-affirming care and extra leave. Likewise, same-sex couples may appreciate financial assistance for adoption and surrogacy alongside parental leave.

8. Deliver training and sensitivity workshops

Another way you can promote inclusivity and understanding is by conducting regular training sessions. You can increase awareness of LGBTQ+ issues, correct any biases and teach staff how to advocate for each other.

As 52% of LGBTQ+ staff want more training in these areas, they’ll appreciate the gesture.

Some possible training sessions could include:

  • Education on LGBTQ+ terminology
  • Understanding diversity within the community
  • Challenging common myths and stereotypes
  • Exploring LGTQ+ history and struggles
  • Recognizing bias and microaggressions
  • Addressing bigoted behavior

If you’re not knowledgeable about these topics, you can outsource to a qualified trainer. Local LGBTQ+ organizations can help you find professionals to suit your budget. 

9. Create a safe, inclusive space

Being inclusive isn’t just a mentality. You can make physical adjustments to your workspace to support and protect your LGBT+ members. Here’s a list of the key areas to consider:

  • Gender-neutral bathrooms with menstrual care products
  • Inclusive signage i.e. ‘restroom’ rather than gender specific labels
  • A flexible dress code 
  • Easy access to a safe space from the counter or shop floor
  • Inclusive decor that reflects diverse experiences and identities

For example, masculine and feminine clothes can cause some members of the LGBTQ+ community to experience gender dysphoria. You can respect their identities by having different uniform options to choose from.

Avoid using products or services from companies that fund politicians who want anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. As these laws affect staff on such a personal level, seeing these brands at their workplace could easily make them feel unwelcome. 

10. Consider what your business image really says

Many businesses fall into the trap of “rainbow washing”. That’s when their attempts to be supportive come across as performative and superficial. Employees pick up on this and may feel that their identities are being exploited for marketing purposes.

One common complaint is when companies appear to use pride to sell a product. That means it’s best to separate shows of support from marketing or self-promotion. For example, putting LGBTQ+ employees in more public-facing roles in June may offend them and come across as inauthentic.

You can show your sincerity by using your business as a platform to educate others and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community all year round. Use your social media to comment on milestone events and participate in events to support the community. If you have the budget, make payments to charities like The Pride Foundation and The Center.

11. Promote inclusive language

Using the right language is a clear sign to LGBTQ+ employees that you’re aware of and committed to their cause. Here are the main rules to bear in mind:

  • Respect preferred pronouns i.e. he/him, she/her, they/them
  • Use gender-neutral language where appropriate
  • Refer to significant others as ‘partner’ and ‘spouse’
  • Likewise, use ‘parent’ or ‘guardian’ for families
  • Ask all staff what they’d like you to call them
  • Use preferred names and pronouns on all documents
  • Address teams with inclusive terms like “everyone” or “folks”
  • Opt for “parental leave” over “maternity leave”
  • Avoid referring to identity as a preference or lifestyle

Language is important because it reflects identity. When people refuse to use the correct words, LGBTQ+ members can feel invalidated and excluded. Remind your staff that while many aspects of people like personality and preferences are fluid, identity is never up for debate.

12. Listen and be aware

If you’re not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you have to depend on others’ insights and first-hand resources. But attitudes change quickly and what seems acceptable now may go against future norms. 

So, much like other aspects of running a business, you have to continuously learn and adapt to support staff.

That’s why you should practice active listening with your employees and pay attention to their concerns. For example, employees may complain about a customer using a new term that turns out to be offensive. But you may not realize its underlying meaning until you talk to others.

Following LGBTQ+ influencers is also an easy way to keep your finger on the pulse. There are many great ones out there but we recommend Jamie Raines and Blair Imani.

How you can be an ally

Small businesses may seem like they have less power to affect change than large corporations. But back in 1969, a little bar called the Stonewall Inn became the center of one of the single most important events in LGBTQ+ history.

And that can continue. Small shops, independent bars, and quirky cafes are the ones that can give employees the most freedom to be their authentic selves. That’s because of the direct involvement of managers and owners like you who can listen to staff and make meaningful changes.

That’s why Homebase is proud to put small businesses first. We know you’re a crucial part of the community and many of the biggest leaps forward. 

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