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Maximising the Effect of LGBTI Inclusion Initiatives

In the 2016 Australian Workplace Equality Index employee survey we asked employees of participating organisations whether they believed their organisation genuinely supported LGBTI inclusion. While 90% of the employees in our 10 top ranked organisations strongly agreed with the statement, only 66% of the employees in our 10 lowest ranking organisations felt the same. How do we make sure our LGBTI inclusion initiatives are reflected in the DNA of the company, and that the change permeates to all layers of the workplace?

Since 2013 and the significant change in anti-discriminatory laws, the Australian work environment is experiencing a fast-tracked process of change around the meaning and the importance of inclusion initiatives in the workplace. On top of an array of impacts that self-editing employees may suffer, as LGBTI identities are now considered protected attributes, businesses are liable for LGBTI discrimination, bullying and harassment, and any type of emotional distress that an individual might suffer as consequence.

In the past three years Pride in Diversity experienced a 365% growth in membership, and witnessed a significant shift in the way businesses endorse LGBTI inclusion, embrace its benefits and use it for branding and marketing. Despite these rapid changes, the end experience of LGBTI employees is not all positive, and in this front changes can be far slower, as they permeate gradually into the different layers of the business.

Quite often we encounter professionals who assess inclusion based on vague ideas and concepts and not based on facts and numbers. We hear about an inclusive vibe, about not having an issue with LGBTI people, about a few employees who are ‘out’ and fine with it. While all of these observations might be true, they neglect to thoroughly address all layers of the business, and address possible roadblocks that LGBTI individuals might encounter in different departments, locations, environments or under different management. As LGBTI individuals more often than not come with an inherit experience of exclusion, it is essential to remember that unless their  identities are explicitly and proactively invited to be celebrated as part of the business’s DNA, they will not necessarily feel included no matter what the vibe is. The art of LGBTI inclusion is about incorporating LGBTI inclusive initiatives, while communicating them clearly, visibly and explicitly.

Further to the belief in businesses’ genuine support in LGBTI inclusion, in the 2016 AWEI survey, we looked into employees’ belief that their organisation communicates LGBTI inclusion initiatives internally. Within the top 10 ranking organisations, 82% of the employees strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, in comparison with 43% of employees of the lowest ranking organisations. This is consistent with other markers, such as employees’ knowledge of where to get more information about LGBTI inclusion in the workplace (87% vs. 45%). In short, members who reach out more, communicate more, and promote accessibility – maximise the impact of their LGBTI inclusion initiatives.

Let us take policy review as an example. For many organisations, amending the existing policies into including LGBTI identities, relationship and specific benefits is one of the first stages taken in their LGBTI inclusion process. It is also the first question in the AWEI, aiming to build a strong structural framework which serves as a foundation for eliminating major roadblocks LGBTI people might encounter. But what happens when the job is done? How do businesses harness the wonderful job that HR people put into the policy review as an explicit cue for inclusion? There are a few ways to do this, including informing all staff via an email from an executive, or by launching the new gender affirmation process policy in a special event. If there is no communication whatsoever, uninformed LGBTI employees will most probably not bother checking for any updates to the policies unless something specific happens, and as a result will miss out on possible benefits, as well as the sense of inclusion that comes with such a significant change to the DNA of the business.

Here are the four elements that need to be addressed in order to maximise the impact of LGBTI inclusion initiatives in the workplace:

Visibility: show and tell as much as you can, while ensuring that what you are selling is top notch. Make sure you can stand behind the inclusion initiatives you create, make sure that the suppliers that you work with are on board, and make sure you use the right language and the right methods. Once you have something great in your hands – let people know. Send the message out there. Celebrate successes. This is not just about branding – this is about creating a new awareness for LGBTI and non-LGBTI employees. Do not assume they know, make sure that they do.

Accessibility: make it easy for LGBTI individuals to access information and support. Nominate specific HR people as LGBTI go-to people and compile a list on the intranet. Make sure that allies are branded in their email signatures, on the intranet, in their workspaces. Identify LGBTI inclusion leaders and provide them with public platforms to express their thoughts and ideas. Make sure that explicit language is out there in a user friendly, accessible way. If you are not sure about it – ask employees to look for the information and assess accessibility.

Sustainability: think long term; do not trust enthusiastic individuals to carry the vast majority of LGBTI inclusion initiatives, as they will move on at some point and will leave a void behind them. Incorporate LGBTI inclusion responsibilities into HR, D&I and executive management job descriptions. Delegate tasks to different people, departments and locations. Make LGBTI inclusion strategies part of the organisation’s wider strategy. Shift from innovation into maintenance, as LGBTI inclusion becomes an integral part of the DNA rather than a mixed and inconsistent array of events and messages.

By taking all three components into consideration, you will be able to make sure that your LGBTI initiatives tap into the core of the business and the essence of LGBTI lived experiences in the workplace. This is a win-win situation, as LGBTI individuals enjoy the privilege of bringing their authentic selves to work, and the business experiences higher productivity, enhanced creativity, longer retention, brand loyalty and satisfied workers.

Authored by Shai Feniger, Relationship Manager, Pride in Diversity. To read Shai’s bio, please click here.