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.

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Patrick Turner

Maurice Blackburn Brisbane

Patrick Turner is an employment and industrial Senior Associate working in Maurice Blackburn’s Brisbane office, which is listed by the highly respected Doyle's Guide to the Australian Legal Profession as one of two top tier law firms for employees in Queensland. In 2017, Patrick was the recipient of the national Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Award for Workpla…

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