March 7, 2020
The world is designed for straight, cisgender people, and throughout history paying lip service to this binary was vital to ensure one’s safety and prosperity in Western society. With this dim past, it’s a small wonder many members of the queer community feel the need to diminish or outright hide their identity at work.
The past few decades have seen great strides for LGBTQ issues and the rights of queer people – but queer culture is still fairly new to many straight and cisgender people. The result is that many people trying to learn more about sexual and gender identity cause unconscious harm by making LGBTQ folks feel anomalous, targeted, and “othered.” Being a queer person on a predominantly straight-and-cis team can make that person feel like a commodity.
In order to function, a business needs its employees – all of its employees – to feel valued and welcome. That’s the bottom line. But it’s important to do this without making it seem like a PR tactic or pandering inclusivity effort. It has to be genuine. Here are just some of the things that can be done to make your workplace more queer-friendly.
Educate the workplace
If you only do one thing, do this; provide opportunities for your team to learn about queer culture, gender and sexual diversity, and queer theory. First, this shows your company is committed to inclusion and diversity, and will likely make queer employees feel more at ease. Secondly, when it comes to fair treatment, education is half the battle. This provides an appropriate space for people to ask about everything from queer experiences to pronoun usage without alienating anyone. Recognizing the existence of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace while debunking ignorance will bring your company forward leaps and bounds.
Show your commitment to equal rights
We’ve come a long way, but there’s a longer way to go. Many queer people are still fighting to have their identities, both gender and sexuality, acknowledged they even exist. One of the best things you can do for a group of people who are being actively erased is vocalize your support. Donate to foundations and efforts supporting LGBTQ issues. Participate in regional PRIDE events (and not for profit!) Start affinity and alliance groups within your company. If you want people to feel welcome, you have to announce it with your actions.
Review your hiring process
Even if you haven’t been actively discriminating, it’s possible your recruitment strategies haven’t been overtly welcoming either. State your commitment to diversity, and maybe name the LGBTQ community specifically. Talk about your values and benefits specifically for queer employees. Make postings on LGBTQ recruitment platforms (they exist) and attend queer-oriented business events. Make it known that you want to be an ally.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Generally speaking, people assume someone is straight and cisgender until told otherwise. This does nothing to help queer peoples’ experiences of erasure. By fostering a culture of not assuming anyone’s gender or sexual preference, you make LGBTQ people feel welcome by having their presence anticipated. There may be groans that it’s all very complicated, and there’s a simple answer to this concern; it’s not. If you’re uncertain how to address someone, you can always ask. Which brings us to our next point.
Don’t assume, ask
You’re not expected to know a person’s gender identity just by looking at them. (The gender binary is so passe!) If a trans or non-binary person is asked, “What pronouns do you use?” they will likely be more than happy to answer. Make this a habit for any new hire, regardless of their physical presentation. The same goes for assuming what gender someone is attracted to – you are allowed to feel out an answer before assuming a man is married to a woman or vice-versa. Much like the above step, this small consideration acknowledges the existence of queer people and will put LGBTQ coworkers at ease by letting them know you know they exist and recognize their humanity.
Asking does not mean arguing
When someone tells you they’re aromantic bisexual, you’re allowed to ask what that means. You can probably even ask a few other clarifying questions without overstepping too many boundaries. What you’re not allowed to say is; “That’s not a real thing,” because it is. You’re standing in front of a person with that identity, and you just did something extremely insensitive, dismissive, and degrading by saying they aren’t real. We hope it doesn’t need to be said, but no one has the right to invalidate another person’s sexual or gender identity. No excuses.
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From small businesses to large organizations, our goal is to assist, advise and implement strategies and policies to make your business thrive and keep your people happy. From overhauling your Employee Handbook or HR Policies, to a complete audit to ensure your company is in full compliance with labour regulations we are here to support and advise the entire way.
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