Eliminating LGBTIQ discrimination in the workplace

We spend most of our waking hours – about one-third of each day – at work. Imagine the anxiety you would feel if you spent those hours hiding who you were, fearing discrimination.

Up to 11% of Australians identify as having a diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity, the Australian Human Rights Commission reports.

For many, staying quiet about their personal lives is a painful reality. Maybe they’ve experienced discrimination in the past. Maybe they fear ‘coming out’ would make them the subject of unfair comments, nasty whispers or outright bullying.

Chances are some of your employees or co-workers identify as LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning). It’s up to all of us to make sure they don’t feel the discrimination and hostility that torment so many in the community.

Having an inclusive culture at work is great for everyone. It increases productivity, attracts good talent, fosters positive mental health and creates a harmonious working environment.

Of course, eliminating LGBTIQ discrimination is not a one-off task with a tick box you can check. It’s an ongoing effort to ensure all employees are aware they’re in an environment in which diversity is encouraged and celebrated.

Here are some steps you can take to help make your workplace a safe space.

Watch your language

Check the way you and your colleagues speak and make sure to avoid discriminatory or derogatory language.

Offensive language may not always be intentional, but all managers and employees should be mindful of their words. For example, if you hear a work colleague describe something they dislike as ‘gay’, be sure to point out this could be extremely offensive to someone who identifies as LGBTIQ.

It’s a good idea to avoid gendered pronouns (‘he’ or ‘she’) when it comes to a colleague or their partner until you’re sure of their preferred terms. For example, if a male colleague mentions his partner, be careful not to say “How is she?”, assuming a heterosexual relationship.

It’s also important to never question people’s gender or sexuality.

Invest in inclusive policy development

Your workplace should have policies in place that deal with discrimination and harassment. If those policies don’t address matters relevant to the LGBTIQ community, you could advocate for an update in support of your colleagues, who may be uncomfortable coming forward.

For the sake of inclusivity, organisational policies, communications and documents should use gender-neutral language. For example, instead of ‘maternity leave’ you can use the term ‘parental leave’.

Be the role model for the right behaviour

When you’re in a managerial or executive level position, your behaviour sets the tone for the workplace. Lead by example. Show others it’s not okay to disparage people based on their sexuality or gender. Try these:

  •  get involved in events that celebrate diversity, such as Mardi Gras and International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, or support charities that help LGBTIQ youth
  • encourage others to be involved in celebrations of diversity
  • show that you are inclusive by fostering a supportive workplace culture and making everyone feel comfortable to speak openly
  • provide a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.

Making people feel accepted at work is an easily achievable goal. By putting some forethought into your actions you can help create a space where no one feels the pain of discrimination.

TOPIC: Employment law

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Alana Heffernan

Maurice Blackburn Sydney
Alana Heffernan is a Senior Associate in Maurice Blackburn's employment department in Sydney. She is listed by the prestigious Doyles Guide as a member of one of the top law firms for employee & trade union representation in NSW in 2017. Alana provides tailored advice and assistance in relation to a broad range of industrial and employment issues including dismissals, discrimination, disputes, issues related to professional registration, adverse action complaints, workplace investigations, disciplinary proceedings and contract issues. She has a comprehensive understanding of the employment and discrimination legal frameworks, and is experienced in appearing before the relevant courts and tribunals, as well as negotiating out-of-court settlements. “There is an inherent imbalance of power in the employment relationship and I enjoy assisting employees to access their rights, entitlements and fairness. I am able to provide creative solutions for issues faced by senior managers and executive clients, including with respect to statutory and common law rights. I have significant experience advocating for my clients, both directly with employers and their lawyers, as well as at relevant tribunals and courts,” says Alana. “I am creative and leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding practical solutions for my clients. From the outset, I work with my clients to develop a strategy for resolution and achieving the best outcome. “I am driven by helping clients achieve fair outcomes that protect their financial and reputational interests. I have worked across many industries and have a deep understanding of the tactics employers use against employees. These tactics vary greatly across industries and employers and I ensure my approach is tailored to the circumstances. I work hard to ensure my clients are in the best position possible to continue in their career, either with their current employer or with a future employer.” Alana has a particular interest in anti-discrimination law and has actively advocated for amendments to anti-discrimination law to include protections for victims of domestic violence. These proposed amendments have been supported and advocated for by various community and legal peak bodies, as well as the Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies. Some of Alana’s other significant achievements include: obtaining court orders preventing an employer from altering her client’s working conditions negotiating agreements that include reinstatement stopping employers from engaging in unlawful discrimination against clients negotiating settlements for clients that not only provide significant compensation, but also protect their professional reputation representing clients in a Royal Commission, and successfully appealing a decision of the Fair Work Commission in relation to allegations of unlawful industrial action. Alana regularly advocates for the rights and entitlements of the LGBTIQ community, and her diverse employment relations experience benefits from having worked for community organisations, unions and the (then) Department of Employment and Industrial Relations.  Memberships & accreditations Law Society of NSW member Industrial Relations Society of NSW member Awards Employment & Workplace Health Safety, Doyle's Guide 2016 Women's Law Association of Queensland Emergent Lawyer of the Year Finalist, 2015 Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Workplace Relations, Employment & Safety winner, 2015  ...

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