Cultivating a welcoming workplace for LGBT employees

by | Jun 29, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

This month, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBT individuals are legally protected from workplace discrimination based on their gender or orientation. While this is a major milestone in our country, it only scratches the surface of what it takes to achieve a truly equal workplace. This is because LGBT individuals continue to face discrimination at work—and their right to employment fails to protect them against micro aggressions, exclusionary behavior and more—and the solution to these issues lies within the individual workplaces themselves.

Early in my career, I was challenged with navigating the challenges associated with this discrimination. After taking on a smaller account that only required the support of one individual, my agency placed a senior director on the account with me. As a junior employee, this didn’t initially strike me as abnormal—until I was notified that I would never be introduced to the client. Instead, I entered an informal meeting where I was told that I was “not enough of a man’s man” to be a featured member of the account, and despite the client never once expressing a discomfort with working with LGBT individuals, this practice was upheld and my presence was kept hidden. “When you work with men, you have to act like men,” my director said. “We just don’t think you have what it takes.”

Before long, this differing treatment trickled into other areas of my professional life. From being the only male to never receive an invite to “guys only” hang outs after work, to frequently being asked about living in the area’s gay district (where I did not live), to later being told I was an inherent design guru because “all gay people are great with interior design,” I grew used to being seen as gay first, public relations professional second. My professional contributions were continually outshined by my orientation. As the only LGBT individual at work, I was viewed exactly as such.

Despite the stereotype outlined by my colleague, my design and organizations skills severely lack—and the continued comments from other employees, even behind the veil of “just kidding,” started to pile up. When coupled with being the only hidden employee on an account at the agency, these frequent comments started to hurt and have a negative impact on my overall well being. Despite my professional qualifications, degree and success on other accounts, I found myself stuck in a spiral of behind-closed-doors work that ended with someone else taking all the credit. I wasn’t included in meetings, I didn’t participate in calls, and didn’t get introduced to the client when they stopped by our agency for in-person visits. My situation was clear: my company was proud of the work I produced, but they weren’t proud of who I am.

Upon leaving this organization, I soon realized that not all workplaces are made the same—and these challenges weren’t industry-wide. After joining Affect, it became abundantly clear that it is the individual responsibility of an employer to ensure a safe and welcoming work environment for all employees. Today, I’ve found a work environment where I feel safe, supported, and valued – for every piece of who I am, and not just the work that I produce. In order for organizations to follow suit and to create a work environment that is safe and welcoming for LGBT employees, it’s vital that they show support for these individuals year-round. One Pride month celebration isn’t enough. Guaranteeing an individual that they won’t be fired—but can still be discriminated against—isn’t enough. Below are a handful of tips for organizations looking to establish a supportive environment and celebrate year-round:

Utilize your platform to change minds

To make a significant impact, organizations should think outside of the walls of their own office. Instead, it’s important that they use their individual platforms, whether they be blogs, newsletters, social media platforms and more, to take a firm stance and voice their support for the LGBT community with their clients, vendors, employees, acquaintances and everyone in between. By showing universal support through these channels, organizations can prove to their staff members that they have their unwavering support in all situations and to all audiences.

Celebrate pride with your office

Whether you knowingly have openly LGBT employees on staff or not, offices need to celebrate Pride Month as a group. This can be done through an in-office celebration, charity events and donations, taking the opportunity to discuss key social issues that impact these individuals, and more. It is vital that organizations make this show of support a facet of their core functions, and after using Pride Month as a catalyst, carry the momentum throughout the rest of the year.

Keep a focus on social issues

Employees are more than employees. Your staff are entire people, and they exist in a world outside of their jobs – and the current events and political issues of today can have vastly different impacts on individuals. Organizations should consistently hold an open dialogue around social issues to ensure that employees are aware that they have the ongoing support from their leaders and coworkers, and that their place of work is attune to issues that can impact their emotional or physical well-being. In addition, this support can help to retain key talent, as consistently keeping a focus on these issues shows that an organization is actively engaged in the overall happiness of the members of their team.

Enable a system of trust

By taking the time to connect with your employees and listen to their concerns, organizations can enable a corporate environment in which individuals feel comfortable speaking up and speaking out about their experiences. By taking an interest in these experiences, leadership teams can become more attune to any potential issues taking place within their organization and work to address these issues before they evolve into much larger issues or result in the loss of employees. What’s more, by proactively presenting these situations, organizations are better positioned to protect their reputations while encouraging diversity and retaining key staff.

Share your pride year-round

The LGBT Experience doesn’t exist one month out of the year, and an organization’s open support shouldn’t, either. It’s apparent when a company jumps on the bandwagon of Pride month, and releasing a rainbow version of a logo is considered the bare minimum. Instead, when the rainbows and pride-themed taglines disappear, it is most important that companies continually make the effort to show support through daily actions that reinforce their stance and show unity.

Being an ally takes work, understanding and compassion – and in order to create a work environment that is comfortable for all individuals, senior leadership at organizations needs to be willing to take the necessary steps to create this reality. However, by practicing the actions outlined in the above, companies will be better positioned to show their support for their LGBT employees and let them know that they are valued. In the future, we can all hope that we, as individuals and as broader organizations, can take more PRIDE in our careers.

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Terry Preston
Terry Preston is a Senior Account Executive at Affect.

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