Onboarding LGBTQIA+ Employees: 9 ways to create an inclusive workplace

Jessica Heijmans
July 24, 2023
min read
Table of Contents
In today's rapidly evolving workplace, creating an inclusive and welcoming environment is a must for organizations. This includes providing an inclusive onboarding experience for LGBTQIA+ individuals, ensuring that they feel valued, respected, and supported from - or even before - day one. In this blog post, we will explore nine tips for LGBTQIA+ inclusive onboarding practices.

What does LGBTQIA+ stand for?

When we talk about LGBTQIA+, we are referring to a diverse group of people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and more. It encompasses a diverse range of identities and experiences, and it is important to understand and respect these differences to create an inclusive workplace.

At times, we may also use the term LGBTQ when citing research by others, as the language and definitions have constantly evolved.

The importance of an inclusive and welcoming workplace

Creating an inclusive onboarding experience for LGBTQIA+ individuals is important for several reasons:

  1. Fostering a motivated and productive workforce: Inclusive onboarding helps foster a sense of belonging, which in turn can lead to higher levels of employee satisfaction, performance, and productivity (Harvard Business Review, Ipsos). 
  2. Gaining and retaining talent. When employees feel accepted and valued for who they are, they are more likely to be engaged and stay with the organization. Furthermore, by genuinely committing to LGBTQIA+ inclusivity during onboarding, organizations can attract exceptional LGBTQIA+ professionals and expand their talent pool.
  3. Inclusive workplaces are a breeding ground for innovation and creativity. Creating an environment that values and celebrates diverse perspectives and experiences, ignites a wide range of fresh ways of thinking, new ideas, and problem-solving (HBR).

Unhappy employees

Furthermore, working in an unwelcoming environment that is not always accepting of LGBTQ people leads to:

  • 25% of LGBTQ workers feeling distracted from work 
  • 17% felt exhausted from spending time and energy hiding their sexual orientation and 13% from gender identity 
  • 31% felt unhappy or depressed at work
  • 20% have stayed home from work because the workplace wasn’t always accepting of LGBTQ people 
  • 20% searched for a different job

But the main reason to prioritize an inclusive workplace is simple: creating an inclusive onboarding experience for LGBTQIA+ employees is the right thing to do. All employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to feel safe, respected, and valued in the workplace. 

By fostering a sense of inclusivity, organizations can promote the growth, success, and well-being of all employees, as well as the organization as a whole.

9 tips for LGBTQIA+ inclusive onboarding practices

1. Understand LGBTQIA+ Employee Needs

An inclusive onboarding program starts way before your new hires start at your company. To inclusively onboard LGBTQIA+ individuals, it is important to understand their unique needs and challenges. 

Stay informed about LGBTQIA+ issues and advancements in workplace inclusivity, ask for feedback from (LGBTQIA+) employees and engage in active listening. Make sure you create a safe and supportive environment for employees to share their needs.

2. Build an inclusive culture: Foster allyship amongst all employees

Building an inclusive culture is more than just a one-time thing during the onboarding process. It requires continuous efforts to nurture acceptance and respect for LGBTQIA+ employees. Celebrate milestones and events like Pride Month to show commitment to inclusivity. 

Encourage allyship, provide resources for education, and establish platforms for sharing allyship stories.

Internal training is an effective way to achieve allyship across the organization, and we will delve deeper into this topic in the next chapter.

3. Create educational and training opportunities for all employees. 

One of the main obstacles for LGBTQIA+ individuals in expressing their true selves at work is the lack of knowledge among heterosexual individuals regarding LGBTQIA+ matters. This can lead to uncomfortable conversations, where the responsibility of educating colleagues falls entirely on LGBTQIA+ workers.

That's why it's important to educate your employees. Help leadership staff understand the importance of managing diverse teams and offer valuable resources that address unconscious biases and micro-aggressions. Consider incorporating LGBTQIA+ sensitivity and awareness training into your onboarding process as an effective way to create an inclusive work environment.

“53% of LGBTQ+ workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once in a while” (Human Rights Campaign)

Topics to consider during a training session:

  • Assumptions of heterosexuality: Assuming that everyone is heterosexual or assuming the gender of someone's partner. Encourage your employees to use gender-neutral terms. Instead of asking a woman, "Do you have a boyfriend?" ask "Do you have a partner?"
  • Inappropriate curiosity: Asking intrusive or personal questions about someone's sexual orientation, gender identity, or transition process. Respect individuals' privacy and allow them to share information on their own terms.
  • Using derogatory language: Using slurs, derogatory terms, or jokes that target LGBTQIA+ individuals. These can create an uncomfortable and hostile work environment.

By addressing these topics (among others), you empower your employees to learn, understand, and support their LGBTQIA+ colleagues.

4. Develop inclusive policies and benefits 

While 67 percent of organizations claim that their benefits policies and communications are inclusive of their LGBTQ+ employees, a mere 58 percent of LGBTQ+ workers feel the same way (Guardian). To bridge this gap, it is crucial to ensure that your employees are supported by your benefits package.

Review and update your company policies to ensure they are LGBTQIA+ inclusive, and communicate your policies to your new hires. This includes:

  • Offering inclusive parental leave policies (e.g. provide leave options for individuals of all genders and adoptive parents), and using the right language. Rather than specific gender terms, such as "maternity leave" and "paternity leave,", use "parental leave”, "family leave" or “new parent leave” (like Mastercard). 
  • Providing inclusive healthcare benefits, that for example cover gender-affirming treatments.
  • Making your office space inclusive: Provide (several) gender-neutral/inclusive toilets and changing facilities.
“1 in 10 LGBTQ workers have left a job because the environment was not very accepting of LGBTQ people” (Human Rights Campaign)

5. Provide LGBTQIA+ Resources and Support

Provide resources and support specifically tailored to LGBTQIA+ employees. This can include sharing information about LGBTQIA+ support organizations and networks, establishing employee resource groups, and offering counseling services that have expertise in LGBTQIA+ issues.

Bringing up the topic of diversity and inclusion during an introduction program can greatly enhance the sense of comfort. You can mention specific diversity and inclusion initiatives of the organization, like a diversity and inclusion committee or the organization's active support of LGBTQIA+ initiatives.

[.callout-small]Quick win: make sharing information on diversity and inclusion a permanent part of your employee handbook or onboarding platform.[.callout-small]

6. Establish inclusive mentoring, network, or buddy programs

To facilitate a smooth onboarding process, establish inclusive mentoring or buddy programs for LGBTQIA+ employees. Pair them with experienced colleagues who have received awareness/unconscious bias training to provide guidance, support, and a safe space for questions. 

Additionally, offer resources to set up an LGBTQIA+ network, enhancing visibility and acceptance within the organization. The network provides a platform to discuss challenges and opportunities with like-minded individuals.

7. Use Inclusive Language 

Even with good intentions, it's likely that you have used gendered words in the workplace. The language we use has a powerful influence on company culture and inclusivity. Regularly using non-inclusive words can negatively impact those who already feel like they don't belong to the so-called "norm”.

Reviewing and updating company language and documentation to be gender-neutral and inclusive is crucial. This includes revising job descriptions, employee handbooks, and other materials to ensure they use inclusive terminology and avoid heteronormative assumptions. 

Take a moment to assess your communication:

  • Are you using gender-neutral terms like "partner" instead of assuming someone's relationship is heterosexual?
  • Do you provide a nonbinary option when asking about someone's gender?
  • Are you using inclusive pronouns like "they/them"?
  • Are you addressing individuals as “folks” or “colleagues” rather than “ladies and gentlemen” when communicating with them?

If you are uncertain about the terms you should be using, don't hesitate to ask! It's a way of showing respect and demonstrating your support for LGBTQIA+ colleagues.

Practical example: promoting inclusive pronouns

In situations where individuals are meeting for the first time, it's a great idea to encourage colleagues to share their preferred pronouns. They can also add them to email signatures or LinkedIn profiles, to normalize the practice of sharing pronouns. These simple actions can make a significant impact in promoting inclusivity and respect for all individuals in your workplace.

[.callout-small]Quick win: Introduce a "rule" in Slack where each time 'guys' or 'girls' are used, a friendly message will pop up, promoting the use of inclusive terms such as 'folks' instead. [.callout-small]

8. Promote diversity in your communications

Representation plays a vital role in fostering inclusivity. It is important to ensure that LGBTQIA+ employees are included in various company materials, such as website imagery, promotional materials, and internal communications.

Incorporate diverse LGBTQIA+ individuals into your marketing campaigns and make sure that different perspectives are reflected in your company's content. By increasing visibility, you send a powerful message of support and inclusivity, demonstrating that your company values equality.

9. Evaluate your onboarding program and make improvements

It's important to regularly assess the effectiveness of your onboarding process and listen to feedback from LGBTQIA+ employees. By making necessary improvements, you can ensure that your onboarding practices are truly inclusive and address the needs of LGBTQIA+ individuals.

One of the simplest ways to determine if your company offers genuinely LGBTQ+ inclusive employee benefits is to actively seek feedback from your employees. Create a survey, whether online or offline, that allows your employees to answer candidly and anonymously. Ask feedback on topics such as:

  • I feel comfortable voicing my opinions even if they are different from others.
  • If my company could do one thing better to be more inclusive what would that be?
  • If I experience discrimination in the workplace, I feel comfortable reporting it to HR or my manager.

Utilize the valuable answers to these questions to bring about positive changes now and plan for an even more inclusive future.

Customize your inclusive onboarding experience

To create a more welcoming onboarding experience for LGBTQIA+ employees, it's important to take a proactive and inclusive approach. By integrating these practices into the employee journey right from the start, organizations can foster a sense of belonging and acceptance for all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Remember, as you consider our suggestions, it's crucial to acknowledge that each company is unique in its size, culture, and structure. Therefore, it's essential to customize your approach to create a more inclusive and welcoming onboarding experience for LGBTQIA+ employees.

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