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Inclusion starts within: 15 Practices for a queer-friendly workplace

Today, October 11th 2019, is ‘World Coming Out Day’. A day to celebrate and encourage the freedom to express who you are and who you love. With your family, friends and colleagues. However, the work environment often, unfortunately, comes with difficulties for queer employees to be themselves. The question arises: Can you truly be yourself at work? We firmly believe that working for a great place to work you should be. This kind of workplace is based on a culture of trust. Somewhere you can be yourself regardless of who you are, who you love and what identity you carry.

We spoke with Stefan Zhu (he/ him), who studied inclusiveness experienced by queer employees in Dutch ''gay-friendly'' workplaces. In his study he used queer as the overall term for everybody within the LGBTQ+ community. One trigger to start his research is the commercialization of the Amsterdam Pride. A huge event in the Netherlands, which takes a lot of time and money for companies to participate. Within these companies he asked queer employees: How truly inclusive is your organization culture?

Inclusion starts within

One of the interviewees mentioned that his/her organization participated in the pride, but that the queer employees were not actually invited to come along on the boat (since it is a day to celebrate who they are) but the managers of departments who funded the ''pride boat'' were instead. This is an example of using the ‘we are a gay friendly organization’ as a marketing tool. 

You can also take another approach. For example, an organization that has invited employees from other international offices to write a letter about why they were motivated to be on the company boat. This was not only focused on the queer community, but also on so called ‘allies’. Allies are people that themselves do not belong to do community but are supportive and helping in facilitating awareness. These people are very important to create a more inclusive culture.

Interaction between organization and individual

The inclusiveness of an organization and if somebody feels free to come out, depends greatly on the organizational policies and the individual at hand. The first factor is (HR) procedures and programs. For example, how inclusive are advertisements for vacancies? How inclusive are secondary employment conditions? And how inclusive are offered trainings, for instance on unconscious basis, inclusive recruiting or diversity management?

The second factor is the individual him/herself. An organization can be very inclusive as a whole, however 1 on 1– and team interactions have a huge effect on someone’s perceived emotional and psychological safety. In a non-diverse team, there is often one commonly shared opinion. In a diverse team there are more discussions and opinions at the table, so it is more common for people to stands out.  It also depends on the choice of the individual at hand if he or she wants to come out. The important thing is that this should not be depending on fear, nor on whether coming out will have a negative effect. It should purely be a personal choice.

What can companies do to be more inclusive, especially related to queer?

Based on interviews with employees of Dutch gay-friendly organizations and the HR representatives of Booking, Atos and Netflix, Stefan listed 15 practices that organizations can undertake to create a more inclusive culture:

15 practices for a queer friendly workplace

1. Make inclusion part of your DNA and core values

Values are no writings on the wall, you must live them. Some companies have the value ‘Be inclusive’. For instance, hosting meetings in gay bars. Unintentionally or not: it makes a big difference whether you tell people who you are and showing them through conscious actions. Values can be used in internal and external communication, in employer branding and in the kind of trainings that you offer. They must be carried out consistently and frequently.

2. Focus on inclusion first, as diversity comes second 

Diversity can be measured based on the data that you have. How many men or women do you have, or how many nationalities do you employ? Inclusion however is far more difficult to measure, because it is about how people feel and experience whether they belong. Therefore, inclusion must be your primary focus.

3. Know you D&I numbers and act upon them

As mentioned in practice 2: know your diversity and inclusion numbers. Especially the inclusion one. Obtain employee feedback data based on questions like: Do you feel that the organization is inclusive? Can you be yourself at work? Do you feel safe? This data gives you the necessary input on which you can follow up after.

4. More queerness in communication to enhance queer visibility

This practice is about internal and external communication. You must focus on internal communication first, before you express externally that you are ‘gay friendly’. If you do not actually do anything for your queer employees and allies (e.g. a drink during the Pride), but at the same time, you launch a campaign related to the Pride externally, something is off. Communication must be consistent and not only during Pride month, but throughout the entire year.

5. Update heterosexual-focused benefits and create more inclusive programs 

Many organization benefits are still mainly focused on the traditional male and female partnership. To be more inclusive, an organization created budget for its employees to make a child wish possible, no matter how people wanted to create it. For instance, for a gay couple in an adoption process. A good example in the Netherlands is Tony’s Chocolonely where you can take leave for your dog. In addition to that, a lot of programs, when they are a little bit more inclusive, are focused on lesbians and gays. But the BTQ+ still lacks. And if you actually want to be inclusive, then you should also take these employees into account.

6. Get insights from you queer employees through the bottom-up approach

Ask your employees about their experience. You can make it specific with questions like: How safe do you feel? How do your direct colleagues or managers (re-)act towards your gender and/or sexuality? Get to know what is really going on and create a safe environment in which people want to speak out.

7. Take diversity and inclusion measures during recruitment and selection

It all starts with your recruitment and selection. Which platforms do you use? Are your platforms suited to attract diverse people? Take the life of diverse people into consideration, for instance women in tech. Refrain from keywords like ‘teamplayer’ or ‘hands on’ that may or may not be interpreted in the intended manner. Instead, be explicit about your expectations and what you need in a specific role, so you can speak to different kind of people.   

8. Diversity representation is important at all organization-related events

Whatever you do, show that you care about diversity and inclusion. For instance, during a presentation, always take some minutes to talk about these topics. Show what you are doing both internal and external.

9. Educate the workforce on newly emerging and existing queer topics

Follow the trends in the media about queer-related topics. One of the current topics is transgenderism. In the past it was gender-neutrality, remember the introduction of gender-neutral toilets? Are you going to implement that within your organization? Start the discussion internally and ask if it matches with the wishes of employees. Follow the media and you will notice changes. For example, the NS that has changed their common speech in the train from “dear men and women” into “dear travelers”. And then make it a topic of discussion within the organization.

 10. Don’t underestimate the importance of allies at the workplace 

Allies are people who do not belong to the queer community themselves but are there in a supporting role, for example by facilitating meetings. This has an additional positive effect if they are formal or informal leaders, or managers within the organization. Also, people from a specific group do not always want to be “the voice” of the group. Most of the time they want people who do not belong to the group to give voice to or create a platform for them.

 11. Make diversity and inclusion unavoidable

Make it important, because it is. Especially when you are growing as an organization and do not yet have a diverse workforce. You will miss out on the advantages of more personalities and different backgrounds. The biggest struggle is on individual level. This already starts with our education. In many of the schools, books and assignments are related to typical Dutch names like Anne (girl) and Wim (boy). Make these books and images more diverse, so people are used to being in contact with people from different origins, sexual orientations and lifestyles.

12. Queer networks should be employee-driven, but facilitation by organization is key

When people want to create awareness on a specific topic, the organization has an important facilitating role. Some companies have different Employee Resource Groups, for instance Asians, queer or Blacks, who organize talks and drinks. This initiative comes from the group itself. It does not cost loads of money, since company offices can be used for location and the company platform to send out invitations. Important is that it must be completely voluntary if you want to join the group or not, and not like “you are part of this group so you must join”.

13. Spend your Amsterdam Pride participation fee for other queer initiatives year-round

With regard to the example of the commercialization of the Pride in the introduction of this article, Booking.com has made the decision to spend their participation fee on various queer initiatives year-round. Instead of one big investment for a single moment, they figured it has more effect when the initiating party is a group of employees, who can share about the initiative through their own (social) media channel

14. Show your queer employees that you care for them and their cause

The cause is different for everybody. You can show that you care when someone wants to organize or pay attention to anything, that you as manager or HR directly start thinking with them about it. Be an ally. The cause can be that someone struggles to come out. How can you as HR of manager help you with this? Another cause can be that you want to do something for the community and that the organization or HR thinks along with you.  

15. Being inclusive starts with yourself

Broaden your own frame of reference: Read about it, have an open perspective, talk to people, be aware of your own biases and gather information. What can you do yourself? Perhaps ask about someone’s ‘partner’ instead of someone’s husband or wife. Stay true to yourself and do the things that feel comfortable to you but be conscious about your words and actions.

Be open and start the dialogue!

To learn more about this topic please feel free to connect with Stefan Zhu

His work will be presented during the 11th Biennial International Conference of the Dutch HRM Network (14 & 15 November 2019). In track 4: Inclusive HRM and employer engagement for vulnerable workers. And currently he is working on a publication of his master thesis together with Dr. Lena Knappert.

Great Place to Work For All
This article is the first one in a series of interviews with relation to inclusion & diversity and the launch of our new model Great Place to Work For All! #GPTWForAll: a high trust culture where everybody, regardless who you are or what you do, has a consistently positive work experience. Please contact us if you want to know more about what we do!



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