June is today known to many as Pride month, and if it feels like that’s become a long established office tradition - think again. In 1965, Canada’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling that declared a gay man a “dangerous sex offender,” with homosexuality only decriminalized in Canada in 1969. The first human rights protections for LGBTQ2S+ Canadians were not introduced until the late 1970s and early 1980s, and even then were on shaky ground. The formal Supreme Court ruling protecting gay employees from discrimination in the workplace only came in 1998.
Today, of course, acceptance and celebration of LGBTQ2S+ Canadians in June seems like an established part of our national fabric. Pride parades occur in cities big and small, and Canada’s largest employers have quickly come on board to join in the pride celebrations. Banks, media networks, restaurants, retailers, and service providers have quickly leaned in to including rainbow flags in their summer branding, and promoting that inclusivity is among their core values (even if the marketing benefits are often transparent).
Yet this does not mean that Pride is easy for all employers to navigate. The LGBTQ2S+ umbrella continues to expand, and has recently seen a growing acceptance of various genders as well as non-gendered individuals who may express their identity outside of any traditional binary structures. Added supports, resources, and acceptance means that many Canadians are more comfortable living their authentic selves vs. keeping their identity private for the sake of trying to keep their jobs.
So what can employers do to help navigate these newer waters, and properly embrace pride in the workplace? Here are a few tips from the ScaleX team:
Live your values.
Your workplace may have put together a diversity, equity, and inclusion (also known as “DEI”) policy in recent years, or you may have no idea what those words even mean. Diversity policies are a great first step in making for a more inclusive workplace, but they’re nothing if the workplace isn’t actually an inclusive space.
So many employees spend years in the closet because they’re afraid of how they’ll be judged for living authentically. Work towards actively making your workplace a judgement-free zone. Along with having a great policy, ensure your staff are trained on diversity, equity and inclusion to make the workplace more comfortable and welcoming for all. Training is not a one-time proposition, either. Work towards your entire workforce receiving regular, up-to-date training so that your team is aware of the latest standards and can keep up with a changing world.
Open the conversation.
Don’t let your workplace become an environment where LGBTQ2S+ employees are afraid to come out. Similarly to living the values, too many employers across Canada say they’re accepting, but simultaneously foster a workplace where an employee would not feel comfortable being truly honest about who they are.
Create a workplace environment that supports open dialogue, and helps employees feel comfortable that their work will be a safe space to engage in conversations. Support employees living authentically, whether through their ethnic or cultural heritage, their gender identity, or their sexual orientation. Ensure employees know that the workplace is a safe space for them to come to managers or supervisors to have difficult conversations, and that managers and supervisors are trained how to either have those conversations or to refer them to the appropriate resources.
Build a network.
Gay straight alliances do not just need to stop after high school, and LGBTQ2S+ support groups and networks are not just relegated for massive corporations. As your business grows, look towards building an LGBTQ2S+ support network that includes employees across the spectrum, and one that makes all feel welcome to join and participate.
Remember, too, that participation in this network is by no means mandatory, especially not for LGBTQ2S+ employees. Some employees may love the prospect of becoming more involved in the community, and others may remain shy or even keep their identity private by choice. Not every employee will be comfortable boldly embracing their sexual orientation in the workplace and that is perfectly okay. The most important part is that those who do want to get involved have the support and resources to do so.
Do the homework.
Your LGBTQ2S+ employees will not be your default educators on all aspects of their orientation and culture, nor should they be expected to take that role. This would be akin to having a Black employee automatically becoming the de facto expert on race relations within their community, or expecting a Muslim employee to educate the entire office on Islamophobia simply because they themselves practice the faith.
Take time to educate yourself offline, especially as a manager or as a business owner. Read, watch, learn, and do the homework. Learn about the issues facing LGBTQ2S+ people, which are dynamic and changing frequently, and may not be the same ones that you were familiar with several years ago. Staying educated and up to date will make you a better ally, and a better support system for your team.
Diversity starts at hiring, and that can apply to the LGBTQ2S+ population just as easily as it can apply to employees of other protected classes. If your company is living its diversity values, make sure that job applicants can see that from their first engagements with your company. Do not hesitate to promote your diversity initiatives on your website, or in your job advertisements.
When candidates are looking at your company as a potential employer, they’re looking at your diversity starting at the top. They want to see that they too will have an opportunity to rise and grow with the company, and that people are promoted broadly and given opportunities to shine. That diversity starts with the hiring process.
Consider taking extra measures, like having all of your team include preferred pronouns in their email signatures, or offering gender-neutral or inclusive washrooms if feasible.
Taking those extra measures before staff have even made those requests shows that you take allyship seriously, and are fostering an environment where everyone can feel comfortable being themselves. Something as simple as a changed email signature has no added cost and takes no extra time, but it shows the outside world that you welcome diversity, and it shows LGBTQ2S+ candidates and customers that they can feel comfortable coming to your business.
Keep ‘zero tolerance’ zero tolerance.
A core part of maintaining an inclusive workplace is ensuring that your team takes that inclusivity seriously. There is nothing less genuine than a workplace that outwardly boasts about inclusivity, yet internally tolerates hateful jokes, hurtful remarks, and open discrimination of employees who are different.
Honour your diversity policies by upholding them strictly, and maintain a zero tolerance rule for any violations of that policy. That does not mean that an employee must be terminated for making an inappropriate joke. Progressive discipline is crucial, and can be combined with training and education to help employees recognize why their behaviour is wrong. Do not, though, leave such conduct unnoticed in the hopes that it will simply go away. Tolerating that behaviour can quickly undo those solid foundations of inclusivity that you have worked to build.
We know that these can be difficult waters to navigate sometimes, and so we’re here to help. Our HR experts are up to date on the latest inclusivity standards, and can help design policies and training that properly fit your workplace. The conversation is one that should stay ongoing, and we are always here to provide guidance along the way. Contact our team today to set up a consultation.
From our team to yours, Happy Pride!