Ending discrimination against gender and sexual minorities requires major social transformation. Institutional change is paramount. As you keep fighting to make your organisation accountable, here are three small but impactful things you can do at your workplace to end this form of discrimination.
Inclusion at work
A 2018 study of LGBTQIA Australian workers by the Diversity Council Australia shows that at only 32% of staff are out to everyone at their workplace, even though 74% of respondents say being out is important. A smaller proportion of transgender and other gender diverse people were out at work (28%). Other research by Pride in Diversity also shows that least 25% of all queer people at work do not feel that their workplace policies are inclusive, and they do not believe their leaders are supportive of inclusion. People who feel their policies and leaders are LGBTQIA inclusive were 1.5 times more likely to be out at work.
Racial inequity compounds other forms of discrimination. Another 2020 study by the Diversity Council Australia and Pride in Diversity finds that only 28% of culturally and linguistically diverse LGBTQIA people are out at work. Over half (55%) of cultural minorities say their culture negatively impacts their workplace experiences. Often, they say racism is a bigger problem than sexual discrimination. Participants say:
“I work in an organisation which is an LGBTI health organisation. However, they do not understand my cultural needs. These are often completely ignored. I identify as a Muslim woman, so there are often comments that are very anti-religious. This means I often feel I have to leave my religious part of myself out of work and it cause me great anxiety.”– Queer, non-binary/ gender fluid, Arab cultural identity
“Recognise that not everyone wants to be or is ‘out’ and culturally this can potentially be in conflict with Western notions of being out and proud.”– Queer woman, Italian cultural identity
“While I do not hide my cultural background at work, I have not yet come out to all of my colleagues. The company does have a diversity and inclusion committee, in which I am a member, but we are based in a semi-rural city of Australia so there is still a lot of people who are anti-LGBT+ people.”– Lesbian woman, Lebanese-Australian cultural identity
“My experience as being both culturally diverse and part of the LGBTQ community at work don’t really interconnect and are completely separate. We have diversity and inclusion programs/teams which focus on cultural diversity, and those that focus on LGBTQ, but none that focus (or even work together) on various inclusion considerations at the one time in a joint/collaborative way.”– Gay man, Chinese-Australian cultural identity
What can we do to combat this discrimination?
First, build in racial justice into your workplace policies that address gender and sexual minorities. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander queer people, and other LGBTQIA migrant and refugee people of colour, have different cultural, spiritual and legal needs that are often ignored in mainstream policies. These needs are often unmet by etablished LGBTQIA staff clubs.
Make sure that racial justice is central to all of the protections and resources that are availablefor queer people at work.
Second, make sure that your organisation’s leave policies are inclusive of LGBTQIA people. Your workplace should have explicit, plain language provisions for LGBTQIA staff. For example, demonstrating that medical and other personal leave can be taken by transgender people undergoing transition. Alternatively, state clearly that parental leaves is inclusive of all genders. Conversely, avoid talking about mothers or fathers, or the gender of non-birth parents. Foster parents, adoptive parents and other caregivers should be covered, regardless of their gender and sexuality, or that of their partners (if they have one).
Finally make sure that there’s accountability and transparency on how your workplace will work to end discrimination against LGBTQIA people. Who’s responsibility is it to ensure discrimination does not happen? All workers. Additionally, all managers, people who sit on hiring committees, and all executives need to have specific deliverables to demonstrate how they are creating an inclusive workplace.
To boost inclusion, ensure that your workplace clearly outlines the types of inclusive behaviours that are expected, so that we’re all responsible for ending discrimination. There should be a straightforward processes for handling complaints on homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and interphobia. This includes the timeframes that complainants can expect for their case to be resolved, and appeal avenues if they’re dissatisfied by the outcome.
Having policies against bullying and discrimination are not enough. Legislative requirements are the bare minimum and usually do not go far enough if we’re going to increase the opportunities and leadership for sexual and gender minorities.
Just because there’s been no formal complaints does not mean that there isn’t a problem in your workplace. Whether you’ve got four employees or 40,000 staff, the tips above and other best practice is the same. We all need to be proactive to end discrimination.
While being out at work is clearly important, individuals should not be put in the position where they need to out themselves in order to have organisations do the right thing. Let’s remember that we cannot tell people’s gender and sexual identity by looking at them. Therefore, we must presume that inclusion is something that we all have to work towards every single day, even if we think we can’t see inequality.
Read more tips in my free resource: Intersectionality, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access.
Diversity Council Australia (2018) Out At Work: From Prejudice to Pride. Sydney: Diversity Council Australia.
Diversity Council Australia and Pride in Diversity (2020) Intersections at Work: Understanding the Experiences of Culturally Diverse LGBTQ Talent. Sydney: Diversity Council Australia.