Pride Month has been celebrated in June since 1970 when the first Pride was hosted in New York, commemorating and celebrating the defiant and groundbreaking Stonewall Riots the year prior. Despite years of Pride parades and protests, workers in Washington State did not gain legal protection from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations until 2006. Continued rights for LGBTQ+ individuals to adopt and marry was finally legalized in 2012.
While significant strides have been made to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people, members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to face barriers in the workplace. A 2018 report by the Human Rights Campaign found that 46% of LGBTQ+ employees are closeted at work. The report found that the top reasons employees do not report negative comments about the LGBTQ+ community at work is because they believe that nothing will be done about it and that reporting these comments will damage workplace relationships.
Employer support is more than simple, performative actions like a social media post. Being an effective ally requires active and ongoing engagement with the communities with whom you wish to build connections. Supporting your LGTBQ+ employees and community requires relationship and trust building for more than just Pride Month.
As we celebrate Pride Month and commit to supporting LGBTQ+ employees year-round, how can your company actively support your LGBTQ+ employees?
Prioritize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
To create a company that supports LBGTQ+ employees, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) should be woven into your company’s workflow, policies and culture. DEI is more than just a training or two; it should be comprehensively considered when creating policies, working in teams and creating new programming.
Ensure your company has inclusive hiring practices to recruit talent from diverse backgrounds. Call out that you would like to hire candidates from the LGBTQ+ community and encourage them to apply.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is an ongoing learning experience. Companies should provide their employees with opportunities for continued training and DEI projects. Some subjects that companies can consider for further training include, unconscious bias, microaggressions, cross-cultural intelligence and more. Washington State University Vancouver offers the Building a Community of Equity (BaCE) training to local organizations as a foundational DEI course.
Your company should also recognize the intersectionality of identities within the LGBTQ+ community. Employees have diverse backgrounds and experiences and are likely to share multiple identities. All an individual’s intersecting identities inform their unique perspectives that companies should recognize and celebrate.
Create and maintain inclusive company policies
A first foundational step is to create a company culture where employees are comfortable sharing their identities. LGBTQ+ employees should be able to freely share their identities at work without fear of retaliation, microaggressions or discrimination.
Your company can also support LGBTQ+ employees by providing equal benefits for same-sex partners in insurance, Transgender medical care, adoption and parental leave and other work-place benefits. Companies can also offer gender-neutral bathroom options at their offices for non-binary and gender fluid employees.
In addition, companies can focus on using gender neutral language within policies, contracts and in the workplace. When inviting employees to a work gathering, consider using the terminology “partner” or “significant other” instead of “husband” or “wife.” In policies, consider using language such as “individuals” or “they” instead of “he/she.” Neutral language helps to create an inclusive environment where all people can envision themselves.
Your team can familiarize themselves with LGBTQ+ terms and language at The Human Rights Campaign Glossary.
Discrimination – refers to the treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.
Microaggression – a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.
Make sure your company takes discrimination seriously and creates a process for handling situations where discrimination takes place. For instances of microaggressions and unconscious bias, companies can take an approach of teaching and educating employees, creating a space for learning and growth while also protecting employees. Workplaces can take advantage of LinkedIn Learning trainings, which are offered online and can also be accessed for free through WorkSource.
Give space for affinity groups to grow
Affinity groups are employee-started groups that focus on connectivity and change across an organization. For LGBTQ+ employees, affinity groups can provide a place where worker can express themselves with other LGBTQ+ coworkers and allies. Affinity groups are also a way for workers to work on projects that they are passionate about to improve the company and the larger community.
Read more about affinity groups in our blog “Banfield Pet Hospital’s Diversity Resource Groups elevate voices and solve community problems.”
Engage actively with your community
If your company wants to support the LGBTQ+ community, there are many organizations that support and advocate for LGBTQ+ people in various ways, including workers’ rights, human rights, business empowerment and more. In Southwest Washington, there are an array of organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community including:
- Reckoning Trade Project – an organization dedicated to widening employment opportunities in the skilled trades for women, communities of color, and LGBTQIA+ workers. By centering the recruitment, retention, and holistic success of nontraditional workers across the skilled trades industries, The Reckoning Trade Project is co-creating an emergent culture of equitable and inclusive work environments that are safe for everyone.
- The GSBA – Washington LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce that serves as a connector across the region, bringing the community together through business while advocating for civil rights and small business, promoting LGBTQ+ tourism and investing in the next generation of leaders through the GSBA Scholarship Fund.
- Vancouver USA Pride – Vancouver USA Pride raises funds for charities and offers supportive connections for the LGBTQ population in Southwest Washington.
- PFLAG Southwest Washington – their mission is to build on a foundation of loving families united with LGBTQ people and allies who support one another and to educate ourselves and our communities to speak up as advocates until all hearts and minds respect, value and affirm LGBTQ people.
- Partners in Diversity – works with employers to address critical needs for achieving and empowering a workforce that reflects the rapidly changing demographics of the Pacific Northwest. Partners in Diversity run educational programs, a career center and provide resources for CEOs, human resources professionals and diversity influencers.
- Oregon Pride in Business (ORPIB) – Oregon LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce creates opportunities for marketing, networking, procurement and referral-based business growth, programs that support development of business skills and expertise through workshops and seminars, and advocate for positive economic, social, and political change.
Listen to your employees needs
As issues and topics arise, make sure to listen to your LGBTQ+ employees. Empower your employees to raise their voices to injustices around them. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when building your LGBTQ-inclusive workplace. If you do misstep, apologize, ask questions to clarify and keep making the effort to be a place where LGBTQ employees and their families, friends and allies want to work.