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LGBTQ+ in the workplace: supporting authenticity

Psychological safety is the feeling of being accepted and respected. It indicates being yourself in a professional setting, without fear of judgment, and it’s something all staff should enjoy as standard. Although, that’s not always the case.

Psychological safety for LGBTQ+ employees

If a salesperson takes a risk in a high-profile pitch, they’re exhibiting a sense of psychological safety. We can assume that they are confident that their company backs their decisions and empathizes with them.

However, if the salesperson is from a minority group, like the LGBTQ+ community –– will they naturally feel the same understanding and camaraderie?

LGBTQ+ fear in the workplace

No matter how inclusive your industry; holding the idea that LGBTQ+ employees no longer need to fear workplace discrimination is naive, at best. Your company’s logo may adopt a rainbow for Pride month, but this doesn’t determine that your employees are at ease being their authentic selves.

For LGTBQ+ people sexual orientation and gender identity risk becoming a defining factor in their career, more so than for their cis and straight peers. Gay, trans, queer, and bisexual employees deserve to feel supported all year round. 


“I kept it in my email signature for months afterward, because you also don’t ever stop coming out.” — Jackson Bird

To truly empathize with LGBTQ+ people, employers need to get into the heart of their experiences. Listen to their stories. And sufficiently understand the unique struggles faced by the different communities under the full LGBTQ+ umbrella.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources from remarkable charities, such as Stonewall, ready to help.

Your company’s logo may adopt a rainbow for Pride month, but this doesn’t determine that your employees are at ease being their authentic selves.

Let’s (try to) quantity the problem

  • Fear, or lived-experience, of bias, can hold LGBTQ+ communities back in their careers. 35% of LGBTQ+ employees feel compelled to lie about their personal lives at work.
  • In our recent Diversity & The Dream’ report, we also found non-straight and non-cis-gender job seekers 158% more likely to feel the American Dream is out of reach.

Prejudice continues to shape LGBTQ+ people’s lives

It’s often empowering to set personal boundaries when deciding what information is confidential, private (or just for your inner circle.) Nevertheless, we recognize how stressful being forced to conceal something is from an early age.

We are living in a time when social media and remote working is blurring the lines between our private and professional lives. While working in a corporate world that increasingly rewards authenticity in the workplace.

Yet, prejudice continues to shape LGBTQ+ people’s lives in both subtle and significant ways. If your employees have suffered setbacks and discomforts for being themselves in the workplace, they may decide not to go through that again. No matter the consequences.

It’s shocking and saddening. And that’s something we need to change. So, is there something the company could do to help?

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Psychological safety is the key to engaging, supporting and learning from LGBTQ+ employees

As managers and recruiters in our different realms and sectors, we have significant power and influence over the teams we lead and the companies we represent. 

Unfortunately, this power isn’t always exerted in the best way. And more often than not, companies make mistakes. Your hiring practices may not always have been bias-free in the past. And your previous policies may have failed LGBTQ+ employees from previous cohorts.

But we need to learn from this. If any employee has experienced discrimination they should first feel comfortable to tell you, and secondly feel confident that it will never happen again.

Each and every employee deserves to feel safe at work — and it’s good for business, too

Employees deserve this. They’re working for the success of your company. So being able to feel at home in their own skin, without fear of how it’ll land, isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity. 

But there’s not just a personnel angle here. There’s a business effectiveness argument too. We talk a lot as talent managers and business leaders about potential. And helping workers reach theirs. From growth and revenue perspective, employee potential has a high economic value. The more engaged and high-performing your teams are, the stronger your bottom line.

One recent report found that LGBTQ+ people that feel psychologically safe at work are also more willing to take creative risks and make their voices heard. And isn’t that something you want from your teams?

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Building psychological safety in LGBTQ+ employees

These four actionable tips will help to transform your team environment and create a psychologically safe culture where all employees thrive. 

Even if you can’t implement all of them, you’ll be surprised at how one small change will impact your workforce in significant ways.

1. Increase self-awareness (in yourself and others)

You might think you know how you think and behave. But, more often than not, the reality is a different story.

Building self-awareness in your teams will help uncover the biases that might be keeping certain employees on the back foot. What do you need to do, to make yours a psychologically safe team? First, ask for — and listen to — your employees’ experiences. Then use continuous feedback loops to monitor long-term change.

2. Be an LGBTQ+ ally at work

LGBTQ+ individuals often minimize the discrimination they face, for fear of further discomfort or (worse) dismissal. But what if they didn’t have to stand up for themselves because their boss already was? 

We recently discussed a LinkedIn update from a manager who fired a client because they were abusive to his team. Whether it was the right business decision or not, it showed whole-heartedly how much that manager prioritized his teams over take-home figures.

Having your employees’ backs is another effective way to reassure them that you’re on their side, make them feel protected, and assures their psychological safety.

For LGBTQ+ workers, this may mean absorbing all you can about gay and transgender policies — acting on them in your organization. It could also be just showing up for them when they need it, or “firing” clients who make them feel uncomfortable.

Essentially, don’t let bias through the office doors.

3. Check up on your team

Getting into the habit of checking in with your employees will demonstrate your concern and interest in them as people. Because they know you appreciate their whole selves — not just their work — they should feel more comfortable to speak up. 

Consider arranging regular one-to-one meetings with your team members. Yes, it takes time and effort, but there’s no better way to build a bridge and create positive, long-lasting change.

“If you’re a great manager or leader, you shouldn’t be operating from the point-of-view of what you want, you should be operating from the point-of-view of what others want.”

Claire Lew

Take time to ask your team how often they’d like to discuss workplace dynamics, how they’d like to discuss it, and even if they’d like to discuss it at all.

4. … but don’t be tempted by “one-size-fits-all” approaches

You need to remember that every single employee is different. While some may be comfortable sharing their thoughts in a team meeting, others may prefer to send them via email, or meet with you in private.

Implement other ways for employees to share feedback in addition to in-person chats, such as online employee surveys or messaging apps like Slack. Just as there’s a whole spectrum of sexualities and sexual preferences to cater for, there’ll be a whole spectrum of professional requirements, too.

Ending workplace discrimination is a team effort

Fighting for Diversity and Inclusion can feel like a lonely road. But there’s a world of managers and leaders who walk beside you.

That’s why we built the Headstart Hire Up network. When you feel like you’re facing a losing battle and that entrenched bias is winning in your organization, hop online and share your struggles. With other HR professionals at your fingertips, you may just get the boost of energy and inspiration you need.

Change is happening for employees in the workplace. We just need to keep pushing to end LGBTQ+ discrimination for good.

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