According to Harvard Business Review, diversity without inclusion ain’t sh*t. (Okay, we’re paraphrasing.) In fact, research shows diversity alone can lead to lower revenue, performance, employee morale and wellbeing, along with slower decision-making, increased conflict, absenteeism, missed opportunities and more discrimination cases.
And let’s be real: it’s no surprise people don’t do their best work, feel like cr*p, and bunk off when they feel completely unheard, alienated, and downright bullied on the daily. #AmIrite?
We asked five of our wisest LGBTQ+ friends to give us their take on how businesses can (and, in our humble opinion, should) better support LGBTQ+ employees at work.
1. Start by listening.
No matter what you think you know, or how empathetic you consider yourself, there’s probably an angle you haven’t considered. Rather than assuming you understand the challenges and grievances of the community, it’s a much better bet to actually ask.
“Take the time internally to understand the lived experiences of a range of LGBTQ+ people,” says Jamie Wareham (he/him), Founder & Director of QueerAF. “You might wonder what you'll have to show for this, but it’ll pay off in every single interaction you have with anyone you meet – forever. These nuances are picked up by us at interviews, in marketing, and in your communication. Understanding first creates the strongest foundation.”
Michael Stephens (he/they), Founder of We Create Space, agrees. “Not sure what needs to change? Bring more queer people (especially more queer people of colour) into the conversation by inviting them to contribute and inform key company processes. Why not make a seat available for them at the decision-making table? Queer people not only have unique perspectives and talents, but have proved to be incredible pioneers, leaders and change-makers.”
2. Inspect your company culture.
“This is pretty simple,” says Stephens, “it’s about creating an environment and culture where people feel welcome and as though they belong. Whether it’s being more inclusive with your policies or providing gender-neutral bathrooms, it’s important that people feel seen, heard and catered for.
“Do you have visible queer leaders? Are you actively encouraging your existing LGBTQ+ employees to share different parts of themselves at work? Are there support networks, resource groups, or mentor schemes in place?” He continues. “Think about your key policies, and how they may reflect an environment that can reassure prospective queer candidates that they’ll feel comfortable and safe. How do your company benefits consider and accommodate the different circumstances faced by LGBTQ+ employees?”
As Simon Mayle (he/him), Event Director for ILTM Latin America and ILTM North America, points out, “Like consumers, prospective employees will choose companies and brands that they identify with and match their personal values.” He warns against rainbow-washing on the basis that it doesn’t contribute to real inclusion. Instead, Mayle says you should “Make diversity and inclusion part of your company culture – not simply a strategy, nor just celebrating Pride month, but embedded in everything you do.”
The results, argues Wareham, will be palpable. “Fostering a space where we can be our authentic selves improves the work we do for you and, in turn, makes those revenue sheets look a lot happier. Wellness can seem a bit fluffy, but it's an investment that pays dividends.”
3. Treat people as individuals.
Olajide Alabi, Co-founder of SISU, wishes businesses knew not all LGBTQ+ employees have the same needs and challenges. “As a collective there are similarities,” he explains, “but we all have vastly different experiences and so need to be treated as individuals.” What bothers a gay woman at work might be a world way from the tribulations of a trans woman. If in doubt – and this goes back to the first point – ask.
On the subject of individuality, Mayle thinks it’s crucial to not only allow for but actively encourage. “What’s the dress code?” He asks. “Are people encouraged to be themselves?” Making sure people are comfortable in what they’re wearing might seem trivial, but it contributes to greater happiness and confidence at work. Not only that, it also sends a signal to clients, partners and prospective employees about your business’ attitudes and values.
4. Train line managers to support their team’s wellbeing.
Did you know that those who identify as LGBTQ+ are three times more likely to struggle with their mental health? “A key aspect of fostering an inclusive culture is to educate and care about what unique struggles a community is dealing with – and of course to offer help and support where possible,” explains Stephens.
As to how to do that, Wareham shares some practical advice: “The wellness action plan template Mind offers is a great way for any manager to connect and care for the wellbeing of their staffers. However, given that LGBTQ+ employees are more likely to be affected by these health inequalities, this is a particularly useful tool to get to grips with the nuances of queer life and what that might mean for the office.”
5. Invest in unconscious bias training for your whole team.
Alabi’s biggest work culture turn-off is “when people think they know what type of person I’m going to be based on what they think they know about the community and what has been depicted by mainstream media and TV.” He goes on to explain: “There are far too many single stories that have been formed based on our biases and preconceptions. When we pinpoint this bias and fully commit to finding out more about an individual… for me this is when the true inclusion work begins and you really create a fantastic sense of belonging based on so much more depth.”
Since bias is often unconscious, pinpointing it takes a bit of soul-searching. If you don’t have time for that, an implicit association test should kick-start the process. Designed to identify hidden or automatic stereotypes and prejudices that circumvent conscious control, these tests can be a real eye-opener for even the most consciously woke folks. Carried out as part of a comprehensive unconscious bias training programme, you’ll give your team both the personal insight and tools to proactively adjust their attitudes and behaviour for the better.
6. Make sure your marketing measures up.
“Seeing people who look like me in the company communication and brand marketing matters,” says Mayle. “Prospective LGBTQ+ employees will look to see if women are celebrated in positions of leadership across the organisation – and the same for race and disability.”
But he also stipulates that “the marketing needs to match the reality.” International Business & Hospitality Management student Ruby Serdar highlights the pitfalls of marketing that overpromises: “I know that being authentic is key to achieving happiness in a career. But I also know that being out and open at work isn't always as simple as employer marketing can make it seem.”
Stephens concurs: “With so many brands also being openly called-out for blatant rainbow washing, it’s more vital than ever for any corporate alignments with the LGBTQ+ community to be backed-up with meaningful initiatives and a long-lasting commitment to change.”
7. Hold your partners and suppliers accountable.
Your ED&I policy should reach beyond your office walls (remote or not). “When looking at your relationships with other organisations – be it affiliates, agencies, corporate partners, suppliers or third-parties – think about their core values and inclusion practices,” says Stephens. “Are they similar to your own? Is diversity as important to them as it is to you?”
“Creating a workplace in which LGBTQ+ employees can be their authentic selves and ultimately flourish is enabled through an integrated approach. Consider not only the initiatives, policies and culture of your own business and immediate teams, but also those of your partner organisations. This will ensure that queer employees feel comfortable and safe when interacting or liaising with them. Being this thorough shows you’re really working to spread positive change in the professional community at-large.”
Feeling bamboozled? Lightning Founder Chris King (they/she) offers a simple way to incorporate all these points within your business. Echoing Mayle’s point, they say: “If you’re serious about equity, diversity and inclusion, it should be a fundamental part of your core values – not an add-on, a bonus, or a nice-to-have. If the motivation to create a space where everyone feels safe and as though they belong drives everything you do, the results are bound to be pretty transformational.”
Meet the contributors
Jamie Wareham (he/him) is Founder & Director of QueerAF, an award-winning independent platform launching the careers of emerging and underrepresented LGBTQIA+ creatives driven by people, not advertisers.
Michael Stephens (he/they) is Founder of We Create Space, a collective of queer leaders connecting global communities with tools, knowledge and support networks for change and growth.
Simon Mayle (he/him) is Event Director for ILTM Latin America and ILTM North America, two invitation-only luxury travel shows for the regions’ most sought-after travel designers, media, and hospitality brands.
Olajide Alabi (he/him) is Co-founder of SISU, an equality, equity, inclusion and wellbeing consultancy that collaborates with your organisation to embed guiding principles within the day-to-day running of your business.
Ruby Serdar (she/her) is an International Business & Hospitality Management student and trans activist.
Lightning is more than just a recruiter. Our relationship-driven approach to head-hunting and business consultancy helps businesses develop before, during, and after hiring. Need advice on anything you’ve read here? Just get in touch.