Employees who face depression, isolation, discrimination and even physical violence at work .
Organizations that experience diminished productivity, lost opportunities and higher turnover.
Much research shows these are the consequences when a sense of inclusion is lacking and LGBT employees stay in the closet at work—which I explored in my previous post.
The question, then, is, “What can global employers do about the situation, given the cultural and legal realities of the countries where they operate?”
The first step is to determine an operating framework within which to make decisions and establish policies. In its 2016 Out in the World report, the Center for Talent Innovation offers three models for approaching the challenge:
· The When in Rome Model:Companies operate in ways that directly reflect the cultural norms and laws where they conduct business.
· The Embassy Model:Companies enforce LGBT-positive policies within their own walls without pushing for change in the broader community.
· The Advocate Model:Companies actively seek to effect social and/or legal change outside their organizations.
There’s plenty of room in which to debate the merits of all three models. I confess to a bias against the When in Rome model, which to my mind all but guarantees a large percentage of LGBT employees will remain disenfranchised. But the primary reason that I don’t want to devote space here to exploring it is simply that by its very intent there are almost limitless ways in which it might play out. Instead, I’d like to share some steps that employers can take within the other two models. Each of these steps has the potential to make a big difference in many lives.
Let’s look first at what operating within the Embassy Model might look like:
1. Set and Enforce LGBT-Positive Policies
Regardless of the cultural and legal environment in which a company operates, it can still insist that, at work, all employees who identify as LGBT be treated with respect and dignity.
It should be clear, for starters, that the company will not tolerate any form of LGBT discrimination. At its most basic, this means that no employee should be fired merely because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. It should also be clear that negative comments about LGBT employees, or humor at their expense, will not be tolerated.
But the best policies address more subtle discrimination, too. Employers can be proactive, for example, about ensuring that LGBT employees don’t derail their careers if they turn down an expatriate assignment that would take them to a country where same-sex relationships are against the law or where a same-sex partner would not be allowed to join them because of immigration restrictions.
Every policy you have deserves a close look to ensure that it supports your LGBT population. But whatever policies you adopt, they will only be as good as they are enforced – and they often aren’t: A Human Rights Campaign survey revealed that 45% of LGBT workers believe that enforcement of their employer’s non-discrimination policy is dependent on their supervisor’s own feelings about LGBT people.
2. Provide Training Within the Context of Diversity and Inclusion
Attitudes about sexuality are complex and deep-seated, based on culture, faith, experience and more. Therefore, training should never be about changing attitudes – it would be arrogant and unfair. But training absolutely can build on the policies you establish, to define and demonstrate the workplace behavior you expect. At its best, training is part of a broader approach to diversity and inclusion. In that context, training can help to ensure that employees understand what’s in your policies, why LGBT rights are important in your company, and what each employee’s responsibility is.
3. Look at How You Hire
It’s one thing to ensure that you don’t discriminate against LGBT people when hiring. It’s another thing to actively make people feel welcome. Something as simple as participating in LGBT-focused job fairs can help position your company as a great place to work. But the strongest statement you can make is to help potential LGBT employees see themselves (literally) in your organization. Shell has an extensive Web site that promotes its diversity and inclusion efforts, and I’m impressed with the portion of it devoted to LGBT employees. It includes profiles and photos of LGBT employees, a statement of intent, information about employee networks, and recognition the company has earned from outside agencies. The site includes examples from many countries, too, making it clear that this is a global initiative.
4. Foster Networks
Fostering internal networks for LGBT employees (and other groups, as well) is invaluable. Such networks give employees a forum in which they can talk with others who have similar concerns. Networks also provided a great structure for employees to share concerns with top management.
In addition to the first four items, operating within the Advocate Model might also include the following:
5. Speak Up
Because of their financial clout, businesses can often influence policy and politics. Some of the organizations that have taken steps in this direction include:
· HSBC, which lit its Hong Kong office in rainbow colors in support of the first business summit in Asia on LGBT rights.
· Barclays, which joined other companies in ensuring the death penalty provision of Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill did not go into effect.
· Microsoft, which took a stand against Section 377 of India’s penal code, which criminalizes same-sex relationships.
6. Support Events
Supporting events – such as pride festivals or parades – show that your company values all LGBT people. Your participation can range from granting permission for an employee group to march in a parade to formal corporate sponsorship of an event.
Your organization’s Web site, annual report, advertising, visual displays and more all tell your employees and customers who you are. If those platforms lack any mention or images of LGBT people, it reinforces the idea that we should remain invisible. Subaru, Burger King, Tiffany & Co., Apple, and Absolut are among the organizations that have prominently featured LGBT people in recent ads. Not only can the ads lure potential customers, they also tell employees “You’re valued here.”
I make no claim that these steps are exhaustive. But any of them can strengthen your inclusion efforts and, in the process, make life more comfortable for your LGBT employees and their colleagues—and, the research shows, give your business a competitive edge.