Everyone should feel safe and included in their everyday lives. This means out in public, at home, and in the office. But the unfortunate truth is that 46% of our queer individuals are closeted at work worldwide. And of those whose gender identities are known, only 73% are open to speaking about simple personal things like their spouses or their lives. In a critical turning point toward inclusivity, what are the simple ways we can make our workplace LGBTQIA+-friendly?
From celebrating pride month to having gender-inclusive policies, there are a lot that companies can do. But, as employees, we also have a responsibility in making sure that our office is a safe space. Luckily, it only takes a little to do a lot in making our offices queer-friendly.
LGBTQIA+ Education Through Introspection!
If you’re here, the odds are that you’ve read write-ups citing education to be the first step towards an LGBTQIA+-friendly workplace. While they’re not wrong, educating yourself is not limited to pouring over articles and journals. With your newfound knowledge of gender, it’s best to do a little introspection to know how others understand their own gender.
It’s difficult to be respectful of others’ gender if you don’t know your own! Theorists in queer studies have done a lot in advancing scholarly understandings of gender and the gender spectrum. They have also done well in making it palatable outside of the academic circles. The LGBTQIA+ community before the 2010s had a lack of resource materials in figuring out who they are in the gender spectrum. Luckily, through the internet and advancement in queer studies, we are privy to a wealth of information!
Regardless if you’re in the LGBTQIA+ community or an ally, everyone should introspect on their own gender identity. You can look at resources like articles explaining the different aspects of gender. You may also use explainer tools like the Genderbread Person by Sam Killerman or the Gender Unicorn by Landyn Pan and Anna Moore as a foundation. Not only is it a chance to learn about yourself, but it lets allies in on the process that most LGBTQIA+ individuals go through in exploring their own gender. In the long run, you’ll gain a better perspective on yourself and those around you.
Promoting the Use of Preferred Pronouns for an LGBTQIA+ Friendly Workplace!
Have you ever seen people adding phrases like “(he/him)” or “(she/her)” in their social media descriptions? It’s a way to tell people the pronouns that you use to refer to yourself with and how you would like others to refer to you. It’s a practice commonly seen nowadays online and in gender-inclusive spaces as a way to promote everyone’s right to their own identity.
We grew up learning that women should be referred to with she/her pronouns, and men using the he/him pronouns. But, we now know that multiple ways exist to express our gender that are not tied to binary ideas of male and female. Outside of he/him or she/her, folks can use they/them/theirs as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.
The neutrality of pronouns is not a new thing. Even the 14th-century playwright Geoffrey Chaucer used “they” as pronouns to refer to roles whose gender was irrelevant. They were simply a teacher or a student. Of course, nowadays, we use “they” for people who are non-binary or gender non-conforming.
So, how can we use pronouns in the workplace? It’s one thing to use it in personal conversations, it’s another to have someone’s pronouns recognized in an office setting. Here are some tips you can do to slowly introduce preferred pronouns to your workplace:
- Add your pronouns to your email signature.
- Include your pronouns in the description of your office platforms.
- In virtual meetings, include your pronouns in your nickname. For example, “Jamie Smith (she/her).”
- During office introductions, ask people their pronouns!
Visibility in the Workplace
The first step is visually being a safe space! In the late 1970s, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man elected to public office. He tasked artist Gilbert Baker to create a symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community (what was then known as the gay community), and to this day we still use the rainbow flag as the primary symbol of pride. Since then, rainbow flags have become a visual signifier of safe spaces for queer individuals.
It may seem like a small thing, but a few small pride flags in an office goes a long way. Symbols of the LGBTQIA+ community in office spaces normalise support. It’s a breath of fresh air, especially for queer folks who are new to the office. Small pride flags on your desk or a little sticker on laptops is a great way to signal a queer-friendly community!
Acknowledge Personal Boundaries
At the end of the day, being an LGBTQIA+-friendly workplace focuses on individual employees. No matter the pride flags or the pronoun usage, if the queer community members feel unsafe and uncomfortable in your workplace, it’s not a friendly place for them. Even if you have good intentions, they can be too invasive.
Whether an ally or a member of the community, you should never cross personal boundaries. Generally, here are some of the boundaries that should take place in an office environment:
- Never “out” someone’s sexuality to another person. If you know someone is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and are unsure if everyone knows about it, wait for them to say their gender identity themselves.
- Do not assume anybody’s gender, identity, or sexuality
- Avoid tokenizing, or making someone the only queer representative to show forced diversity in the workplace.
- Never ask invasive questions about their gender and sexuality (i.e., about their gender transition, anything about their body, their relationship with their parents, etc.)
- Do not use derogatory or exclusionary language. You can check out some examples here!
The Secret to an LGBTQIA+ Friendly Workplace
Remember that talks of inclusivity and the gender spectrum are fairly new, so not a lot is set in stone, and over time, things can evolve. But, the beauty of it lies in the freedom to express and identify however we want to. That said, we won’t always use the right words or do the right thing. To be inclusive does not mean you should know everything, it means that you are always open to learning, understanding, and exploring ways to become an open and inclusive space.