The Network of Executive Women (NEW) was established in 2001, and over that time, most would say that workplace environments have gotten better for LGBTQ+ people. Yet, at many organizations, there is still a major disconnect between stated progress and the day-to-day experience of being an LGBTQ+ person at work.
The Human Rights Campaign found in its 2018 study A Workplace Divided that one in 10 employees had heard a supervisor make negative comments about LGBTQ+ people. “LGBTQ workers lack faith in accountability systems, sometimes with good reason,” the study says. They found that workers primarily don’t report hearing their co-workers speak negatively about LGTBQ+ people because they simply don’t think anything will be done to stop it and fear harming their relationships with coworkers.
Zero Tolerance for Intolerance
Intolerance leads to employees who feel excluded from company culture, 31% of whom reported that they feel depressed at work — that should prompt employers to take swift and decisive action.
Allyship can only begin when accountability has been established. LGTBQ+ employees need to hear clearly stated policies that ban discriminatory language from the workplace and encourage those that hear it to report it via an unbiased accountability system.
Allyship: Words Matter
Allyship begins with robust education for employees on unconscious bias. For example, more than half (53%) of LGBTQ+ people reported hearing jokes about their community at work, while only 37% of non-LGBTQ+ employees reported hearing them. This gap demonstrates unconscious bias that can only change with education.
Respecting pronoun use is another way to show your allyship — it is a sign of respect that can have a significant impact on the well-being of those around you. A resource created by the NYC Department of Social Services (nyc.gov) does a good job of educating employees about the importance of pronoun use.
Other resources for educating yourself and your employees about LGBTQ+ allyship include the Human Rights Campaign (hrc.org) and the University of California San Francisco’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center (lgbt.ucsf.edu).
Stand by Your Team
Allies need to be willing to speak up at work when they hear a co-worker, fellow supervisor, or a fellow board member denigrating LGBTQ+ people. “It’s just a joke” is never an excuse for making colleagues feel they don’t belong in your workplace.
The strong evidence that diverse workplaces lead to better business outcomes — not to mention the cost of replacing employees lost to prejudice — should motivate businesses to educate and take action.
About the Author
Sarah Alter is president and CEO of Nextup, formerly the Network of Executive Women, a nonprofit learning, leadership and gender equality advocacy organization of 13,500 members (representing nearly 900 organizations), 300+ national and regional corporate partners, and 22 regional groups in the United States and Canada. NEW advances gender equality and diversity in the retail, consumer goods, financial services and technology industries.