To mark the end of LGBT History Month, Gareth Johnson outlines some next steps for employers as they consider a return to the office and shares some of the work Amazon is doing to promote inclusivity.
As we reach the end of LGBT History Month, it’s an important time to reflect on inclusivity in the workplace, and this year there’s more opportunity for change than ever before.
Many office-based employees have been working from home for almost a year, and we’re all working to understand and define what the new normal looks like when we return to our offices.
This is a great chance for a cultural reset in terms of inclusivity for LGBTQ+ staff in the workplace. With many businesses examining their ways of working in greater detail than ever before, there is plenty of scope for evolving existing company policies.
Although the past few decades have seen great progress in areas like homophobia and trans-rights, we are yet to reach a place of total equality and acceptance in every workplace. A government report from before the pandemic found that 70% of respondents avoided being open about their sexual orientation for fear of a negative reaction. The workplace was the second most commonly cited place (after public transport) where respondents felt unable to be open about their sexuality, while less than 3% had discussed sexual orientation or gender identity at school.
Clearly much still needs to be done to improve inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ community in their work lives.
The business case
Becoming more inclusive can benefit your company in numerous ways. Multiple reports have found that companies that embed diversity and inclusivity into their culture outperform their counterparts. A study by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that LGBT-inclusive companies in the US attract better talent, decrease employee turnover, have better reputations, and perform better as businesses, versus their less inclusive counterparts. Employees have a better experience at work, and so work better.
So, if embracing diversity in the workplace is good for your employees and good for business, what steps can your business take to improve? An obvious and important first one to take is to develop clear zero tolerance policies on discrimination and harassment, but this is just one pillar of a comprehensive plan.
Employers should encourage openness and acceptance. A company where employees can feel themselves without concern is one where employees will perform well. Inclusivity drives a sense of belonging, will help collaboration and innovation across teams, and reduce stress for individuals. This will ultimately increase engagement and help people to perform at their best.
HR teams can help to achieve this with simple changes; for example, by adding software tools and policies to ensure correct pronouns on comms to employees and job candidates, making bathrooms non-gendered on the company’s return to the office, and by removing loaded and stereotypical language from job descriptions.
Education is key
They should also consider introducing or retaining regular and insightful training programmes for staff that can help to educate staff on conscious or unconscious biases at work, from recruiting to performance management, and foster better relations between employees and with customers. A clear training programme on diversity and inclusion will enable respectful interactions and should target all members of the business.
A company where employees can feel themselves without concern is one where employees will perform well.”
Creating a comprehensive library of LGBTQ+ resources for employees to access at any time is a good step and enabling individuals to access them and learn in their own time can help. If your firm does not have experts in these areas, getting outside expert help can help create more impactful content, rather than relying on senior leadership or internal HR teams.
Employee networks should also be established. These groups play an important role in building internal networks for career development; advising business units; leading in service projects; participating in policy discussions; and reaching out to local communities where employees live and work.
At Amazon we have a range of employee affinity groups such as Glamazon, which helps make us a great place to work by educating and informing employees about LGBTQ+ issues and opportunities. Glamazon mentors fellow employees (both LGBTQ+ and allies) and promotes diversity and visibility in recruiting and throughout Amazon.
While community and networking projects don’t have to be this extensive, affinity groups are a great way to educate and engage employees and create a more inclusive culture.
Having a culture-focused workplace that really looks after your people can be the difference between a happy or unhappy career, or between a successful and unsuccessful business. As we all plan for and look forward to our return to a more ‘normal’ working life, now is the ideal time to evaluate the culture and policies in place to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive place of work.