April 12, 2019

The Importance of Making the Workplace More Inclusive

by Katy Shanahan, Esq., Equitas Health

Members of the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination in every facet of their lives, not the least of which is at their jobs.

According to a recent Human Rights Campaign report, 50 percent of LGBTQ+ workers remain closeted at work for fear of being discriminated against, missing out on promotions or being fired. One in five LGBTQ+ workers report having heard crude sexual orientation-related jokes at the workplace, or being told to dress differently to accommodate others’ perception of appropriate gender presentation.

But you won’t hear many of these workers talking about it to HR or supervisors. The biggest reason why? They don’t think anything would improve.

Imagine feeling uncomfortable or even frightened every day at work, but being resigned to discrimination. How do we change that?

Let’s start by extending statewide legal protections to LGBTQ+ Ohioans. Ohio excludes the LGBTQ+ community from its civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. The Ohio Fairness Act, a bipartisan bill, would extend these legal protections to all members of the LGBTQ+ community. Passing this bill would be tremendous progress toward creating a more equitable Ohio.

Public policy isn’t the only solution. Employers should also bridge the equality gap. Here are some concrete ways to do so:

1. Create a company-wide culture of inclusiveness. This takes more than just a short presentation during new-hire orientation about diversity. A clear message from the top that discrimination is not tolerated at any level is crucial. Adopting a comprehensive nondiscrimination policy, implementing regular diversity trainings for every employee and standardizing benefit packages with inclusive policies are great first steps.

2. Provide access to employee resource groups. Being a member of a marginalized community can be isolating, particularly in the workplace. LGBTQ+-specific resource groups provide a source of community and safe spaces for employees.

3. Support LGBTQ issues in the community. Participating in annual Pride events is great, but it’s also important to understand the unique issues facing the LGBTQ+ community and to really show up when it counts. Taking a stand on local or state laws affecting the LGBTQ+ community, for example, and being responsive to employees’ needs and expectations are imperative.

Need help implementing these important changes or curious about employee resources? Contact the Equitas Health Institute, which provides education and training resources to create more culturally-humble environments for companies. The Human Rights Campaign also has various online resources for both employers and employees.

The statements in this article reflect the views of the author.