Considerations for a LGBTQ+ Inclusive Workplace
By Ally Smit
The Canadian Human Rights Act, which provides a list of prohibited grounds of discrimination, was amended in 1996 to include ‘sexual orientation’ to ensure legal protection for individuals identifying within the LGBTQ+ community* (Rights of LGBTI Persons). It was only in 2017, over ten years later, that the terms ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’* were also added as prohibited grounds of discrimination (Canadian Labour and Employment Law). As a result, employers are obligated to ensure that their workplaces are free of discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Although many employers have adapted to this change in the Canadian Human Rights Act, few have gone beyond their legal obligation. An employer may comment that their hiring processes and procedures are discrimination free, but may not realize that there are barriers in their workplace that unintentionally prohibit employees from feeling accepted. When diverse employees struggle with inclusivity in the workplace, it can lead to dissatisfaction and turnover. Nearly one in ten LGBT employees has chosen to leave their jobs because they considered their work environment to be unwelcoming (Huffington Post).
Although there are many facts and options to consider, the following list offers a few ways that an employer can create a LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace to ensure all their employees feel accepted at work.
Learning is Key
Egale’s Glossary of Terms provides a list of basic terminology related to LGBTQ+ identities and experiences. As well, it provides more information on how an individual’s gender identity may affect how they would like to be addressed in society. For example, someone may request to be addressed as ‘they’ or ‘them’ instead of ‘him’ or ‘her’. However, as the phrase goes, “you never know until you ask”. It’s natural to be afraid to make a mistake, but by asking an individual how they would like to be addressed, you are demonstrating your ability to learn and build trust.
The Safe Zone Project was created to provide individuals with free resources and training materials relating to LGBTQ+ inclusion. You can utilize this website to complete self-paced training, read articles, and review FAQs to better boost your understanding of LGBTQ+ issues and considerations. The more you are knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ considerations, the better equipped you are to create an inclusive and accepting environment.
Promote Internal Allies
Workplace culture is determined by your employees, and it can be difficult to create an accepting and inclusive workplace culture without their support. One way you can build a LGBTQ+ inclusive environment is by promoting internal Allies. Allies are individuals who are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and can help build an inclusive workplace. If your organization has a Health and Wellness team, you can provide them with resources from the Safe Zone Project so they can become organizational Allies and share their knowledge within the organization. At the base level, you should ensure that your HR team is up-to-date and knowledgeable about the challenges a member of the LGBTQ+ community may face in the workplace.
Identify Organizational Barriers
Once you have boosted your understanding of LGBTQ+ considerations and challenges, you should reflect on your organization to identify any potential barriers that may make it difficult for a member of the LGBTQ+ community to feel included at work. For example, here are some potential organizational barriers to consider:
- Benefits – are your benefits inclusive to LGBTQ+ individuals and their families?
- Policies – do your policies reflect gender-neutral terms to ensure inclusivity across employees?
- Programs and Support – do you offer an Employee Assistance Program, and are they equipped for LGBTQ+ considerations?
- Facilities – does your office have any barriers that may prevent an employee from feeling comfortable in the workplace?
At the end of the day, employees want to feel respected and accepted in their workplace, and it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure they provide an inclusive environment. By learning more about LGBTQ+ considerations and challenges, employers can equip themselves with the tools needed to create an inclusive and accepting workplace.
*LGBT/LGBTQ/LGBTQ+: an acronym used as an umbrella term to represent a community of individuals who consider themselves to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two spirited, queer, questioning, and more.
**Gender Identity and Gender Expression: Gender Identity is an individual’s internal sense of their gender. A person’s gender identity may or may not align with their biological sex. Gender Expression is the way an individual presents their gender within a social context. For example, an individual may express their gender through clothing, voice, and/or hairstyles.
Please utilize Egale’s Glossary of Terms for more terms and definitions.