5 ways to support LGBT+ students at work

May 2, 2019 | Diversity

Annie Gainsborough of Gradconsult considers the falling number of people who identify as heterosexual with advice on supporting LGBT+ students at work.

Today over half of Generation Z know someone who uses non-binary gender pronouns. A third of this same generation do not identity as solely heterosexual, a far greater proportion than the estimated 2% of the adult population who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) according to the Annual Population Survey. Double the number of 16-24 year olds identify as LGB than the total adult population so, while estimates vary, it is clear that LGBT numbers are increasing.

What can we do to ensure our workplaces are as inclusive as possible to LGBT+ students? 

  1. It’s the little things While provisions like gender neutral toilets are crucial to ensuring trans people are comfortable at work, little conversations overheard by colleagues have the power to define your workplace culture, for better or for worse. In a former workplace, I made the decision not to come out after over-hearing an off-hand homophobic remark in the corridor. An experience like this takes a lot to reverse, so making it clear that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable is really important. 
  2. Celebrate and change – June is Pride month, a tradition launched by bisexual activist Brenda Howard in 1970, after the LGBT community (notably trans women of colour Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera) fought against a police raid during the Stonewall Riots. In the run up to June, you may notice Pride flags appearing on logos as companies such as HSBC and the National Trust join in marches. Why not use the month to showcase the work you are doing to support LGBT+ colleagues, or use it as a chance to launch new initiatives and ensure prospective applicants see that you are dedicated to inclusion not just tokenistic rainbow-marketing. 
  3. Language – For prospective applicants, websites and social media may provide their first impression of you. This often comes down to language, but some easy substitutions can ensure you are demonstrating your commitment to inclusion from the outset. Refer to people rather than men and women, chair rather than chairman, and do the same for any sector-specific terminology too (eg salesperson or sales representative). Make sure that these surface-level alterations are substantiated once candidates join your organisation. Are your policies up to scratch? Do you have a policy on adoption or shared-parental leave? Have you considered including pronouns (mine are she/her) in your email footers or at the start of meetings to normalise this for trans and non-binary colleagues?
  4. Respect is key – Even in the most inclusive of workplaces coming out is nerve-wracking, carrying the risk that you will be treated differently. If someone does share with you, respect is key. Respect their privacy if they do not want to be out more widely in the workplace. Respect any pronouns, titles or names they ask you to use (or not use). And respect the fact that this step might not have been easy when they are striving to fit in. 
  5. Ask the experts – While many employers may believe they already have lots of this covered, the individuals are the experts on their own identify, so ask your LGBT+ network or colleagues for their views. Data gathering is key to uncovering hidden barriers and to understanding the effectiveness of initiatives. Perhaps consider inviting LGBT+ graduates to contribute or deliver training to graduate scheme managers, or offer development opportunities and mentoring to LGBT+ employees.
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