While progress and strides have certainly been made when it comes to workplace equality, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees are still anxious about revealing their sexuality at work.
This can be attributed to the fact that the LGBT employees worry that revealing their sexuality in the working environment, will have negative consequences on their jobs or career prospects.
Just recently, a survey commissioned by the Other Foundation, carried out by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), found that over 70% of South Africans feel that same-sex activity is “morally wrong”.
This is an unfortunate reality that the LGBT population still has to grapple with, despite our country entering the tenth anniversary since same-sex marriage was legalised in November 2006.
However, considering that the US National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) estimates that there are 3, 29 million LGBT people in South Africa, and the fact that if this community were a nation, its economy would be the 105th biggest in the world, it in actual fact means that the LGBT community is one of the biggest drivers of South Africa’s economy.
LGBT individuals occupy a number of posts in the workplace, but due to the stereotypes that they face on a daily basis – they often hide their private lives from colleagues and clients for fear of homophobia, exclusion, or in case they might be overlooked for valuable promotions.
This is aggravated by the fact that they live in in a heteronormative society (a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation). The question of LGBT in the workplace, is often an elephant in the room that companies would rather choose to disregard.
Tips for creating an LGBT inclusive workplace
• Do not assume that everyone in your office is heterosexual.
• As with Women’s Day, adopt a habit of commemorating significant days that celebrate gay, lesbian and transgender individuals – this should help demonstrate the acknowledgement of LGBT individuals in the workplace.
• Ensure that you equally acknowledge the relationships of staff members by celebrating anniversaries, births and marriages/union ceremonies in a similar way, regardless of sexual orientation.
• Always refer to “partners” when inviting employee spouses of your employees to social activities. This should apply to all internal communication to make it more inclusive and non-gender specific.
• Never reveal a LGBT person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission.
• In training sessions for employees or managers, use concrete examples of situations that pertain to LGBT persons. For example, when addressing legal issues relating to financial matters of opposite-sex couples in a pre-retirement course, discuss those that apply to same-sex couples as well.
Companies can start with the following as a starting point in entrenching diversity into the company’s HR policies.
• Do not make diversity a mere buzzword, but rather build it into your company’s HR policies. Introduce policies that include health benefits for same-sex partners.
• Endorse a LGBT-friendly work environment by recruiting more diverse employees. Ensure that your hires know about the company’s commitment to diversity and equality through your organisation’s statements about inclusion.
• An inclusive environment allows staff members to be honest and open about who they are, and this will also enable them to perform at their best.
Inclusivity will allow the business to attract and retain top talent. LGBT consumers will also support your business more if they know about your commitment to their community.
Kay Vittee is the CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions.