by Kathleen LaTosch
It’s often surprising to people when they find out that people in most states, including Michigan, can still be fired simply because they are (or are perceived to be) gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.[i] It should be no surprise then that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are fearful of losing their job or not even getting hired from the get-go. Outing yourself in an interview can be a sure-fire way to NOT get offered that position.
Of course, this means many LGBT people are still in the closet when they take the job. They then are faced with the challenge of determining when it’s safe to talk about their personal life, all the while fearing co-worker ostracism, client complaints, and promotion loss. It’s not easy to navigate these challenges and new LGBT employees who stay in the closet quickly become viewed as secretive and impersonal, further alienating him/her from office camaraderie and limiting promotion opportunities. If the worker views the environment as unsafe to LGBT people, s/he may never come out at all and will eventually leave your team.
So how do you combat this in the work environment? How do you provide a welcoming place for your LGBT employees?
- Let your potential employees know it’s a safe environment for them by putting it in writing. Add sexual orientation and gender identity to your company or organization’s non-discrimination policy and print it plainly on all job postings.
- Make sure employment benefits are equitable for both straight and gay employees. Since LGBT people in most states still cannot legally marry (including in Michigan), healthcare and other benefits are not always readily available – make sure you offer domestic partner benefits, and other employment perks to both same sex partners and opposite sex partners of employees. Provide education for LGBT employees on the tax consequences of the added benefits.
- Provide comprehensive diversity and inclusion training to all your staff. Make sure the work environment is safe – make sure all staff know you have a zero tolerance for offensive behavior of any kind, against any minority, and tell them what that is. Provide cultural education and learning opportunities so your staff can become more familiar with customs, language and traditions.
- Support causes important to your employees. For LGBT employees, this includes sponsoring pride festivals or fundraising events of their favorite LGBT charities. It makes a difference to that employee to see their company name on a community event and it increases your standing in the LGBT community – making your recruitment efforts all the better in the future.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great start. For more information about how to implement these ideas, or for training on these issues, your local LGBT community center can help. CenterLink, the national association of LGBT community centers, has a directory of organizations across the country.
[i] In May of 2012, the EEOC interpreted discrimination based on sex to include those who are transgender, although the new rule has yet to be tested (as of May 2012).