Beyond rainbow washing: Meaningfully supporting LGBTQ2S+ employees and coworkers

Jun 8, 2022
min read

It’s officially pride month which means you’ve probably seen tons of rainbows floating around the internet and in real life (and rightfully so). But just as quickly as they’re put up, soon storefronts will quietly take down their displays, rainbow merchandise will be removed from shelves, and company logos will revert to their original state. 

Termed “rainbow-washing”, the happenings mentioned above are when companies use rainbow colours and/or imagery to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ2S+ equality with minimum effort – AKA let’s toss a rainbow on our logo for the month and earn consumer credibility. Then BOOM, the first of July rolls around and everything is once again business as usual. 

While it’s important to show support, without action, embracing the rainbow is merely a performance. And for some, it’s an excuse to make a quick buck without actually supporting their queer employees and coworkers. 

We get it though, a lot of you have the best of intentions and are looking for to show support in meaningful and lasting ways. This one’s for you. 

Understanding LGBTQ2S+ experiences in the workplace

According to the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, 30% of LGBTQ2S+ employees in Canada report experiencing discrimination in the workplace. And a 2020 American Progress report found that 62% of transgender respondents and 69% of nonbinary, genderqueer, agender, or gender nonconforming folks experienced discrimination that year, compared to 36% overall. 

Despite progress in recent years, the reality is that many queer employees don’t feel safe and included at work. In fact, research conducted by associate professor of labour studies and geography at McMaster University, Suzanne Mills, found that more than 50% of surveyed Canadian LGBTQ2S+ employees hid their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the workplace with fears of being stereotyped, making others feel uncomfortable, or losing relationships. 

How to support your people beyond pride month

Support and protection of LGBTQ2S+ workers should be the standard, and you shouldn’t have to wait for someone to tell you to make changes to feel motivated to be an ally. Below are just some ways you can meaningfully support LGBTQ2S+ folks at work year-round. 

1. Create a feedback safe environment 

This one’s important for employers and people leaders, but remember that it’s everyone’s responsibility to create safe spaces. Provide channels for feedback, anonymous and otherwise. Prioritizing trust in the workplace means building a culture of psychological safety and honesty, where you and your team feel comfortable asking questions, and expressing thoughts and ideas. A large part of this is ensuring you create a safe and comfortable space for feedback. Whether this be via employee check ins or anonymous surveys, work with your employees to figure out the best way to facilitate an honest dialogue. 

We may think we're doing all the right things until we make space for other perspectives – in which case, we may find we're not doing enough at all. Make it easy to not only share thoughts and feedback, but also provide an easy-to-access way to report discrimination and hate – and then actually act on that information. 

2. Prioritize inclusive language and respect people’s pronouns 

Being mindful of the language we use is pivotal in creating an environment where everyone on our team feels respected, safe, and included. 

Acknowledging and encouraging the use of pronouns is just one small step in confronting the implications of words and behaviours that have long gone unchallenged. Mistaking a coworker’s pronouns may be a great source of stress and discomfort, which can make them feel isolated from the rest of the team. Adding pronouns on internal communications like Slack and email signatures, as well as asking and acknowledging people’s pronouns in meetings can have a significant impact. And if you’re a Humi user, you have the option to add pronouns and gender to your Humi profile.

Beyond pronouns, recognize common male-gendered phrases and make an effort to replace them with more inclusive language. For example, replace “hey guys” with something gender-neutral like “hey folks” or “hey team”. Silver, Humigo on the UX team, shared Google’s developer documentation guide for examples of unnecessarily gendered language and what you can say instead – it’s worth checking out!

3. Check your hiring practices and LGBTQ2S+ representation

66% of LGBTQ2S+ said they would feel more comfortable applying to an organization if they were to publicize all LGBTQ2S+ related policies (such as anti-discrimination policies and transition guidelines), and 64% if organizations explicitly stated they are LGBTQ2S+ friendly on job postings. 

Ensure your support and value for LGBTQ2S+ voices in the workplace comes across on all your employer branding channels, from your value proposition and career site to the platforms you use to promote your career opportunities. 

If applicants can’t see themselves within your organization, they simply won’t be interested in working at your company. What is your diversity statement? Your inclusivity statement? What policies exist to support LGBTQ2S+ workers? Are there queer leaders in leadership roles at your company? Work with your hiring managers, HR reps, and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) professionals to address these gaps so you can broaden your reach.

Get auditing

You can’t fix what you can’t see – collect information on LGBTQ2S+ employees' representation and experiences in the workplace by conducting equity audits on talent processes and pay

Ensure your organization isn’t perpetuating pay gaps. And if your company doesn’t have LGBTQ2S+ folks in executive positions, consider why and take actions to remedy this lack of representation.

Don’t rely on salary history in setting pay, that just perpetuates past inequities. Employees come and go, people get promoted – so even if you make necessary changes, the issue of pay inequity can creep up again. To keep your wages in check, conduct an audit every year. 

Diversity in the workplace benefits everyone

Innovation stems from the ability to utilize different perspectives in approaching and finding solutions. Without a diverse team (i.e. diverse skills, cultural backgrounds, life experiences, and sexuality and gender), it’s possible your company will lack those fresh perspectives that drive creativity and innovation.

4. Review your employee handbook 

Review and assess your organizational benefits. Do you offer benefits to employees in domestic partnerships, or civil unions? Does your health insurance cover gender reassignment surgery? Do you provide mental health benefits? Do you have any practices or policies in place to support an employee who may be transitioning?

Also make sure that your workplace discussions and practices avoid gender binary defaults – you can do this by adjusting your company policies to use inclusive language wherever possible. For example, change “husbands and wives” to “partners”, and change “maternity leave” to “parental leave”. 

5. Donate to and support LGBTQ2S+ organizations throughout the year

LGBTQ2S+ organizations are doing the work 365 days a year and deserve (and need) your support beyond the month of June. Whoever you are, here are just some initiatives and charities in Toronto to check out:

6. Prioritize an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) strategy

Implementing a strong equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) strategy is pivotal in developing a workplace of inclusivity and belonging. If you’re interested in creating your EDI strategy but don't know where to begin, check out workplace equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are important to my company. Where do I start? for helpful tips and guidance. We’ve also linked other helpful resources at the end of this blog.

Get started with Humi

Did you know you can add pronouns to your Humi profile? It’s just one small way we’re helping you improve inclusivity and belonging at your company. Speak with our team to learn more.

Learn more with Humi

We have plenty of resources to help you foster a workplace of inclusivity and belonging. Check them out here:

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