How far have we come with LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace

Time flies, even when our day-to-day activities are conditioned by the global pandemic, COVID-19. From March until recently, it has surely been a bit monotone, despite Spring and the stomach butterflies it usually brings with it. Colour is coming back with vengeance in June in the shape of a certain multicoloured flag. That’s right, we’ve reached Pride Month, a global yearly celebration of the progress made for the rights of the LGBTQ community. And although the world usually celebrates differently with parades, concerts and workshops throughout June (or did in a world pre-COVID-19) , the global message remains the same: acknowledge, support and celebrate diversity, this time through the lens of LGBTQ+ people. Because, when we celebrate Pride, no matter our sexual orientation, we speak out for everyone’s inclusiveness.  

This year is special. The coronavirus may have a “corona” but it won’t steal the show. It’s the 50th anniversary of the annual LGBT+ celebrations. We’ve come a long way, baby. Let’s take a quick trip back in time, to the origins of Pride.

It was 1970, on Sunday June 28, around noon, when New York’s gay activists held the first pride march, today known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day. Indeed, Pride celebrations honour the 1969 Stonewall Uprising – a series of riots – in Manhattan. 

The years that followed brought a period of transformation for the LGBTQ+ community, marked by events that made the community more visible. During those years, the world saw the first gay kiss on TV and the release of Cabaret, known for being the first movie to truly celebrate homosexuality. 

Half a century since the beginning of the movement, Pride Month goes beyond being a colourful display. It depicts the resilience and the strength of the LGBTQ+ community through the years in their stand for freedom and acceptance, and their countless efforts to educate the world on how our differences make us unique in our own way and, therefore, stronger. 

In time, European countries joined, not only the yearly celebration, but also the fight for equality and social acceptance for all communities. Fast-forward to 2020 where 16 of 28 european countries have legalised same-sex marriage, and a further 12 have legalised civil unions for same-sex couples. 

We have, without a doubt, made considerable advances when it comes to overcoming the challenges of including the LGBTQ+ community, and of building a legal framework that guarantees their interests and rights. However, this is only the beginning. The naked truth is, diversity and inclusion are a state of mind. Laws cannot dictate feelings or shape mentalities, they can only set boundaries. Our education and experiences as individuals are what truly influence the society we live in. It’s important we remember that, while progress has been made, the path towards a true social inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community is full of stones on one side and quicksand on the other. And the same goes for workplaces.

Diversity cannot be managed. A business, instead, can make the difference by managing the inclusion of diversity.

The turn of the tide for the LGBTQ community at work is a business responsibility as well and can be a true differentiating factor. This article shines a light on how to do it, giving practical examples. 

The perception of LGBTQ+ in Europe at a glance

We’ve come a long way since the first LGBTQ+ riots. In this interactive Rainbow Map 2020 created by ILGA-Europe, we can see that most of Western Europe countries but Italy are well on their way to provide equal rights to the members of this community. However, the ex Soviet Union block and most of Eastern Europe have a lot of work to do.According to this 2019 European Commission publication, the majority of Europeans are aware that discrimination based on sexual orientation, being transgender and being intersex is widespread.

Source: European Commission

The same article shows that 72% of europeans accept the same-sex relationship while 69% believe that same-sex marriage should be allowed through out Europe. When it comes to transgenders, 59% believe that they should be able to change their civil documents to match their gender identity, and 46% agree that official documents should offer a third option besides male and female. 

But judging the reality by means of numbers is, oftentimes, a happy oversimplification that masks uncomfortable truths. Sure, the statistics show a positive attitude towards LGBTQ+ but the day-to-day doesn’t look quite the same. For example, think of same-sex couple in public spheres. Do they show affection the same way heterosexual couples do?  

Source: European Commission

Living in diversity proves to be slightly different from positive opinions or attitudes towards it. Nobody said including diversity is an easy task. It calls for changing mindsets and “ways of doing” and, more importantly, for acknowledging and managing stereotypes and fighting prejudices we all have been raised with. 

If the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has unavoidably impacted every single country in the world and almost every sphere or our lives, the LGBTQ+ community isn’t the exception and faces particular challenges. Apart from the more than 220 pride celebrations around the world that have been canceled or postponed, there’s a major increase of discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people in line with xenophobia and racism. But these are not all.

According to this Harvard article, LGBTQ+ challenges during the “year of the coronavirus” include loss of work and income, the closing of schools and their negative impact when being confined with unsupportive families, limited access to legal protection for individuals living under insecure households, and reduced access to health care, including hormonal treatments that are essential for the health of transgender and nonbinary people.

Luxembourg and the LGBTQ+ 

What Luxembourg is achieving is remarkable. According to the ILGA-Europe Index 2020, the Grand-Duchy occupies the 3rd place among the top european countries in terms of LGBTQ+ equality. 

Recognition of marriage and registered partners for same sex-couples, legalisation of equal access to joint adoption for LGB couples, criminalisation of hate crimes and hate speech in the Penal code, and enforcement of a regulatory framework to protect LGBTQ+ individuals at the workplace are, among others, some of the actions taken by Luxembourg in favour of equal rights and diversity. 

During the UN Climate Action Summit, Luxembourg’s’ Prime Minister Xavier Bettel wisely said:

I never wanted to be the gay prime minister, but I’m the prime minister and I’m gay. […] Being gay was not my choice. But not to accept it is a choice. […] Homophobia is a personal choice. And we have to fight against it. […] We are all part and we all have a responsibility.

How far have we come with LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace

Over the last decades, businesses in all sectors have irrevocably contributed to support the LGBTQ+ community. Diversity and inclusion measures and initiatives put in place to ensure the safety and well-being of its members are vivid examples of it. 

More and more, companies are opening their eyes to the simple reality that peopleand, therefore, businessessucceed in an environment that enables diverse talent to thrive. But progress being made cannot leave them complacent. 

Nearly 50% of LGBTQ+ Americans are in the closet at work, according to this article. The reasons range from the fear of being stereotyped (38%) and not wanting to make people feel uncomfortable (36%) to the fear of losing connections or relationships with co-workers (31%).

While statistics on this particular issue aren’t yet available for Europe, other challenges are still very much present in the old continent. This 2019 European Union LGBT survey presents the experiences of LGBTQ+ people with discrimination, violence and harassment in the workplace. 

Overall, members of this community yet face obstacles to the full enjoyment of their fundamental rights. LGBTQ+ talent still struggles to find a job, with 13% of respondents admitting having felt personally discriminated against when looking for a job in the past 12 months due to their sexual orientation. The percentage reaches 30% in the case of transgenders. 

The same goes for discrimination at the workplace. One in five (19 %) of those who were employed in the 12 months preceding the survey stated that they personally felt discriminated against at work in the last year because they were LGBTQ+.

Source: EU LGBT Survey
Seven things businesses can (really) do to support LGBTQ+ at the workplace

To be able to build a diverse workplace where all employees feel free and safe to be accepted no matter who they love or the gender they feel identified with, words and nice statements are only the peak of the iceberg whose broad and solid base, anchored in our minds, has to be shaken. The first step is to become aware of unconscious appearance-related biases, relational issues that have to do with ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and preconceptions based on gender. 

Here are seven things businesses can (really) do to support the LGBTQ+ community at the workplace:

  1. Develop a clear strategy for supporting LGBTQ+. Communication and transparency go hand-in-hand. Create a clear mission statement and a plan; then, present the business’ diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies and strategies for supporting the community in a transparent manner to employees of all levels. Make D&I training compulsory in all employees’ development programmes to educate them on how to manage personal beliefs and cultural backgrounds at the workplace so they can be more inclusive. 
  2. Take sexual-orientation based discrimination seriously. Set up a strong anti-discrimination policy in your recruitment and career evolution practices, ensuring that all employees know what will not be tolerated. In cases of homophobic behaviour, it’s important to recognise the problem and take action promptly.
  3. Choose an “ally champion” of the community. There is no cause without allies. Invest in initiatives that identify and promote allies of LGBTQ employees, whose support for the community is crucial as well as their commitment to diversity. 
  4. Get the senior employees on board. Gain the support of the top management and on-board senior staff champions. The top management can help develop and implement  diversity initiatives and training, while senior LGBTQ+ employees can act as mentors to the community’s younger workers. They can also be the sponsors of employee network groups.
  5. Support the local LGBTQ+ community. Show how your business supports the local LGBTQ+ community by informing employees of local events and groups. You can also become a sponsor of a Pride Party or a Pride Parade, celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), the National Coming Out Day (if your country has it) or even sponsor or participate in events such as LGBT+@Work. Additionally, you can encourage your employees to volunteer and participate in events like Pride Month or organise workshops and conferences with speakers that will educate your employees further on the subject.
  6. Remember to be inclusive in benefits packages. Remember to include diversity in benefit packages. The truth is gendered language can cause that benefits such as parental and maternal leave and adoption leave unintentionally exclude LGBTQ+ families. It’s important for HR employees to be aware of these biases, and of the need to use a more inclusive and gender-neutral vocabulary to ensure equal benefits regardless of sexual orientation. For example, the use of “partner” instead of husband or wife.
  7. Support transgender employees. Over the past years, transgender visibility as well as their unique challenges have been brought to light. It’s crucial that businesses understand what steps should be taken to support an employee who comes out as transgender, and protects transgender employees in general. HR is an important player in supporting transitioning employees. To create a supportive and encouraging environment, HR professionals should be educated and trained to take on this responsibility.
What we think 
Marc Schernberg, Partner and SHINE Promoter at PwC Luxembourg

With the evolution and general acceptance of same-sex marriages, many believe that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights has been won. And while the gains in recognition and legal protections have made a big difference, they’re not enough to solve the longstanding issues that plague the LGBTQ+ community, particularly at the workplace. Acceptance of diversity has to go beyond words, and it’s time for individuals and businesses to take action and tackle issues such as discrimination and homophobic bullying, not only to stand out as a inclusive brand, but to contribute towards a change in mentalities. We cannot wait for change to happen, we have to be the change.

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