Pride Month is a time to celebrate our LGBTQ+ colleagues at work — but it’s also a time to take tangible actions to support and advocate for them all year long.
Research from our Mercer Marsh Benefits Health on Demand Report has found that employees who identify as LGBTQ+ are significantly more likely to experience anxiety and depression due to extrinsic factors, such as long-term exposure to discrimination or “microaggressions” — subtle comments or actions that express hostility or negativity, whether consciously or not, toward members of a marginalized group.
This year’s Pride month comes during a particularly stressful time. The ongoing pandemic has posed significant challenges to LGBTQ+ colleagues in terms of mental health stressors and access to care and resources.
In fact, the Mercer Marsh Benefits Health on Demand Report found that one in three LGBTQ+ employees (39%) feels the COVID-19 pandemic has had a personal negative impact. 30% of LGBTQ+ employees report feeling “extremely” or “highly” stressed, and only one in two LGBTQ+ employees feel highly energized at work.
Source: Mercer Marsh Benefits Health on Demand Report
We’ve previously offered four suggestions for how employers can play a role in supporting LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace: listening, providing inclusive benefits, highlighting learning and allyship, and holding leaders accountable for DEI goals.
Indeed, many organizations have done well in addressing systemic bias against LGBTQ+ employees — helping all employees understand the importance of avoiding harassment, discrimination or overt aggression at work.
But eradicating hostility is not the same as inviting true inclusion and belonging — and empowering all colleagues to be themselves, no matter their gender identities.
The day-to-day experience of inclusion and belonging is mostly driven by interactions with colleagues and peers. Many employees commit microaggressions without even realizing they’re doing so. Organizations must therefore set expectations and educate employees on how to practice inclusive behavior every day and make it the norm.
There are impactful ways to help every employee be a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community through everyday actions and speech.
Show up as an ally
It’s important for employees to spend time and energy supporting their words with actions. Encourage employees to attend events sponsored by LGBTQ+ BRGs and ERGs and to engage with articles or posts on these topics on your internal networks.
Normalize sharing pronouns
One very simple way of leveling the social playing field for nonbinary and trans employees is to normalize the use of pronoun sharing. Encourage employees to add pronouns to email signature lines, and routinely include them in verbal introductions, Zoom names, bios/profiles and nametags. Encourage employees also to be mindful of using the correct pronouns once they have been introduced.
Learn the vocabulary of inclusion
In addition to pronouns, help employees become familiar with inclusive LGBTQ+ vocabulary and become comfortable using it when appropriate. Becoming comfortable with important terms — such as gender identity or heteronormativity — can open new avenues of understanding for non-LGBTQ+ employees and go a long way toward helping LGBTQ+ colleagues feel understood and accepted.
Use language thoughtfully and inclusively
Ask employees to think about the language they use every day — which they may not even be aware carries bias. Inclusive language entails positive word choices that respect and acknowledge the broad diversity of people in the workplace, including their genders, sexuality and relationships. One example might be avoiding binary-assumptive language, such as “ladies and gentlemen,” or gender-assumptive words, such as “guys.” Instead, use more inclusive terms, like “folks.”
Recognize the diversity of families
Caution employees not to make assumptions about what someone’s family or personal life might look like — assumptions that could make LGBTQ+ employees feel isolated or less comfortable participating fully in conversations and activities. Questions such as “what does your husband or wife do?” might put an employee in an awkward position. Employees should be encouraged to invite conversation that brings the whole self to work, but it should be done in an open-ended way that lets others identify parts of their own stories rather than identifying them in error. “Tell me all about yourself” is a good example of an inclusive conversation starter.
Let LGBTQ+ colleagues set their own boundaries
Some employees will welcome the opportunity to share more about their lives with work colleagues. Others will wish to remain more private or reserved. Be sure employees allow LGBTQ+ employees to set those boundaries on their own. Help them create a safe space for sharing, but don’t push employees or put them on the spot to share more than they’re comfortable with.
Support colleagues who are transitioning
Employees should be encouraged to give full support to colleagues who are transitioning or who have family members who are non-gender-conforming. People need to understand the harmful effects of insisting there are only two genders, for example, or that gender and sexual identities are choices. This can be particularly challenging for employees who are still struggling to accept transgender identities, so it’s crucial to teach employees how they can be respectful of transitions regardless of their own perspectives on the issues.
To truly make a difference for the LGBTQ+ community, create resources and model behavior that lasts all year long instead of limiting efforts to Pride Month. This will help send the message that inclusion and belonging are core facets of your organizational culture that should be cultivated every day.
Even in these few simple actions, there’s a tremendous and exciting opportunity to make a big difference in how inclusive your work culture is and to support the LGBTQ+ community through everyday habits. When we show up more broadly in support of our LGBTQ+ coworkers — whether they’re present or not — we increase the visibility of inclusive behavior and help model an inclusive environment to all colleagues.