“My name is Tom Crawford. I help organisations become more inclusive, and I’ve been openly gay since 1997”

Over the years, I’ve seen significant changes in how workplaces interact with the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve experienced both overt discrimination and unintentional misunderstandings. But I’ve also formed lasting friendships with people from all walks of life.

In this article, I’ll share insights from my personal journey and provide you with practical tips to engage meaningfully with the LGBTQ+ community. Whether you’re looking to better understand your LGBTQ+ colleagues, friends, or family members, or simply want to be a supportive ally, this guide is for you.

My Personal Journey

 

Coming out in 1997 was a different experience compared to today. We had fewer LGBTQ+ role models in prominent positions back then, certainly not heads of state, CEOs of global organisations or stars of the sports field or movie screen.

Today, the landscape is changing, with more people identifying as something other than heterosexual. However, many challenges still exist, from assumptions about one’s sexuality to navigating unfamiliar environments. I recall, for example, being chosen for a client meeting because the client was gay and it was assumed he might be interested in me (and help the company win the work). Imagine if the situation were reversed, with a female consultant being chosen to appeal to a straight male client!

Understanding LGBTQ+ Terminology

LGBTQ+ Acronym Explained

 

The LGBTQ+ acronym stands for:

  • Lesbian: A woman attracted to other women.
  • Gay: A man attracted to other men. It can also be used by women to describe same-sex relationships.
  • Bisexual: Attracted to both one’s own gender and other genders.
  • Trans: Individuals whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. This includes trans men and trans women.
  • Queer/Questioning: An umbrella term for those questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Other Key Terms

  • Cisgender: A person whose gender identity matches their birth sex.
  • Gender Fluid: A person whose gender identity shifts between male and female.
  • Non-Binary: A person who doesn’t identify strictly as male or female.

Pronouns

Pronouns are a crucial aspect of respecting someone’s gender identity. Common pronouns include:

  • He/Him
  • She/Her
  • They/Them

If you’re unsure about someone’s pronouns, it’s okay to ask politely. (Mix’s guide to Pronouns and how to use them covers this in more detail)

Training on LGBTQ+ inclusion

MixLEARN packs decades of DEI consultancy experience into off-the-shelf, premium learning content

Intersectionality and the LGBTQ+ Community

 

Intersectionality is a word and concept we are hearing much more about, specifically in the context of inclusion. It refers to the interconnected attributes some people have which can heighten their chances of being excluded in the workplace, or at least minimise their sense of belonging, or both. For example, my intersectionality is my mental health and my sexual orientation. For others, it might be their gender and race. For example, being a Black woman can present additional challenges to those faced by a woman who is white.

Everyone is a complex mix of various identities, including race, gender, sexuality, and more. Intersectionality refers to how these intersecting identities can affect a person’s experience and sense of belonging.

For LGBTQ+ individuals, intersectionality might include factors like faith, cultural background, or the country they work in. Being aware of these intersecting identities is crucial for creating an inclusive environment.

The needs of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace

 

For LGBTQ+ people, feeling included at work means being able to wear clothes that show who they truly are without fear. It means not worrying about using the right pronouns for their partner or hearing hurtful jokes. It’s also important to understand that people’s feelings about their sexuality and gender can change over time. Many LGBTQ+ individuals come out or transition later in life. If a coworker changes their pronouns, simply using the correct ones without making a big deal can make them feel supported and comfortable at work.

Creating an inclusive workplace is not only the right thing to do but also good for business. Countless studies have shown that inclusive environments lead to higher productivity and employee satisfaction.

Here are some ways to create an inclusive environment:

  • Respect everyone’s identity and use correct pronouns.
  • Avoid making assumptions based on stereotypes.
  • Be mindful of the impact of humour and language.

How to Be a Supportive Ally

 

Being an ally means actively supporting and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. If you’d like to be an ally, think about asking different LGBTQ+ colleagues how you can support them, take them for a coffee and ask for coaching on this. If your organisation has an LGBTQ+ affinity group or network, ask if you can come along to one of their meetings.

A few good places to start in becoming an ally:

  • Educate yourself about LGBTQ+ issues.
  • Listen to LGBTQ+ individuals and validate their experiences.
  • Speak up against discrimination and offensive jokes.
  • Read Mix’s Quick Guide to Allyship

Final thoughts

Understanding and supporting the LGBTQ+ community is an ongoing journey. By educating ourselves, being respectful, and actively advocating for inclusivity, we can create a more welcoming environment for everyone. Here are a few top tips to remember on your inclusion journey:

  1. Familiarise yourself with LGBTQ+ friendly language, and correct yourself and move on if you make a mistake.
  2. Decentre straight as the norm – it’s easy to make small changes like asking someone about their partner or spouse, rather than a husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend
  3. Be proactive with pronouns – adding them to your email signature and social media is a good place to start.
  4. Consider the whole person – remember that our sexual orientation or gender identity is only part of what makes us who we are.
  5. Remember that listening to LGBTQ+ colleagues about the issues they’re facing is the best way you can show up and support.

Thank you for reading, and let’s continue the conversation to make our workplaces and communities more inclusive for all.

Start the conversation

Talk to the Mix team about appreciating and engaging the LGBTQ+ community in your organisation

Tom Crawford

Tom consults and speaks on leadership, organisational culture and inclusion. By the way, he’s Bipolar 2. Would you have read this blog in the same way if he’d admitted that up front? He has detailed the raw reality of living with his condition whilst building a successful corporate career in his book Breaking the Glass Floor. It is on Amazon. It’s a short but impactful read. More of a posh pamphlet really.

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