What a safe workplace looks like for LGBTQ+ individuals

Modern workplace policies, procedures and benefits should take into account all of their employees with a focus on inclusion.

Employers should also include LGBTQ+-focused benefits in their packages, and ensure that HR staff are knowledgeable on what they entail

Negative experiences for the LGBTQ+ community are far too common in the workplace. A 2020 Boston Consulting Group study found that 40% of LGBTQ+ employees are not out at work, and 75% reported experiencing negative day-to-day workplace interactions related to their LGBTQ+ identity in the past year. The pandemic has exacerbated many of these issues and the promise of offices reopening presents several new ones.

As the world tries to recover and employers share their back-to-the-office plans, many LGBTQ+ individuals are getting anxious about what that return may look like. The world looks a lot different now and employers must provide safe spaces for all employees. Regardless of whether employees have identified as queer, the workplace policies, procedures, and benefits should take into account all of their employees with a focus on inclusion to ensure everyone can be their true authentic self.

Related: What HR leaders need to know about the LGBTQ+ workplace experience

The types of resources that can serve as a starting point include providing a space in email signatures, bios, contracts, etc where employees can include their pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them, ze/hir) that they identify with. Additionally, employers should revisit their personnel policies to replace gendered language with more general language and ensure there is flexibility to change names on documents even if they don’t correspond with a person’s legal birth name. This allows all employees the opportunity to abide by company policy, but also feel they can work authentically. It can also reduce instances of discrimination many employees who do not abide by transitional gender norms may face. For example, a male-identified individual with painted nails being told by a manager that this is inappropriate; however, there are no personnel policies that provide guidance on this topic.

It is also critical to provide the appropriate accommodations in office locations, like gender-neutral restrooms and changing rooms. An item that many employers don’t think about is providing the necessary accommodations in both restrooms, such as menstrual products for both women and transgender men. What may seem like little things can be isolating factors for someone in the community.

Employers should also include LGBTQ+-focused benefits in their packages, and ensure that HR staff are knowledgeable on what they entail. Examples of these benefits include: providing adoption resources, parental leave regardless of gender, and leave time for gender-affirming procedures.

Beyond physical benefits, mental health benefits are important to consider to help individuals with eating disorders, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, as well as the normal stressors in life. LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to experience mental health difficulties as a result of stressors such as: limited social support, higher levels of unemployment, homelessness, internalized homophobia and transphobia.

Additionally, employers should consider adding health care navigation support specifically tailored to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. The LGBTQ+ community is two to three times more likely to avoid care compared to non-LGBTQ+ populations because of discrimination and other negative experiences in health care settings. Navigation services can help people with challenges such as finding LGBTQ+ knowledgeable providers, understanding and navigating insurance coverage for gender-affirming care, family planning, finding advocacy resources for parents of LGBTQ+ youth, and more.

Once policies, accommodations, and benefits are in place, it’s important to make sure employees know they are there, without calling attention to individual employees in case they haven’t expressed their gender expression or identity yet. Whether through brochures, magazines, flags, or stickers – just having resources out at the office shows support without having to scream it from the rooftops and LGBTQ+ employees will appreciate those small signals. In fact, many LGBTQ+ individuals report they look for these small signs and signals to assess whether a space will be welcoming.

Lastly, it’s important to do more than just say. That means showing LGBTQ+ representation in leadership, visibly supporting the community all year round, having and supporting an LGBTQ+ focused Employee Resource Group (ERG), providing LGBTQ+ resources throughout the office before people ask for them, and educating yourself on the community vs. being asked to be educated by your employees. Don’t wait for them to come to you to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ employees.

Dr. Jack Bartel is a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand/Grand Rounds Health and Colin Quinn is co-founder and CEO of Included Health.

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