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Dan Boughton. Image: Huckletree

Take pride in creating diverse and inclusive workspaces

5 Jul 2019

How can companies create more inclusive workspaces for LGBTQ employees? Dan Boughton, people operations assistant at Huckletree, gives us some insight.

Being in the tech start-up environment surrounded by such diverse thinkers and entrepreneurial people, you think about identity and truth in a completely different way. It is important to recognise the importance of having a workforce that not only reflects but supports our diverse member demographic.

Prior to the world of HR, I worked in finance. Upon starting my role, I was ostracised by one team member who would make comments about my sexuality and encourage others to do the same. Being the new guy, I didn’t know where to turn or how to deal with this situation for fear that it might jeopardise my future in the role.

Sadly, this may be a familiar story for many members of the LGBTQ community. Since that role, I’ve made it my mission to build an environment that inspires freedom of expression for employees, no matter where they come from, what they believe or what they identify as.

While you can’t expect to change things overnight, if you’re looking to create a more diverse and inclusive workspace for your LGBTQ employees, here are some tips on how to get started and how to maintain your warm and welcoming ethos as your business grows.

What are the three key principles behind inclusive workspaces?

Respect, authenticity, listening.

Always start with listening to your employees’ views and needs, and seek to truly understand them. Provide a space where people feel welcome to be themselves, celebrated in fact.

Share your truth and others will share theirs. In business, we have a responsibility to make room for people to show you who they are outside of the meeting room, beyond their job title or their department. Every one of your employees has a story, and sexuality is usually a small part of that anyway, just like how some of us prefer tea to coffee.

How do company leaders play their part in making this happen?

Everything stems from the top. This is where businesses need to first create an infrastructure that demonstrates inclusive principles and practices for employees to work within. Leadership who prioritise building transparent, empathetic and authentic relationships with their peers and teams can cause a ripple effect through the entire company.

Employees learn by example to treat everyone as equal. As businesses – start-ups in particular – scale and rapidly grow, the messaging can easily get diluted, so it’s critical that management carry the baton and continue to spread the love.

How should you handle workplace discrimination?

Ideally, all businesses should operate a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination against LGBTQ people and act accordingly. Again, it falls mainly to company leaders to enforce this and hold people accountable when they do not respect or consider others because of their sexuality.

When dealing with such a sensitive situation, decisiveness is key. By making what’s acceptable as black and white as possible, you lower the probability of people behaving badly and, if these boundaries are defined during the onboarding process, you clearly establish what will and won’t be tolerated.

Curate a culture of openness

A recent YouGov poll highlighted that 52pc of LGBTQ people have experienced depression in the past year and 61pc have experienced anxiety. We’re all human, so it’s important to nurture an atmosphere where employees have ownership over their mental health in a supportive environment. For instance, introducing ‘me days’ will  empower employees to look after their mental health in a no-questions-asked environment.

Physical and digital spaces should also be a huge consideration. Gender-neutral bathrooms are a great way to promote gender inclusivity. When it comes to digital spaces, HR management systems should empower employees to be able to highlight their chosen pronouns. It’s important to cultivate a safe space for members to express themselves within every aspect of their life and personality.

Preventing toxic office culture

Occupational burnout has recently been recognised by the World Health Organization as a mental health diagnosis, and it’s more important now than ever that workspaces provide a safe space for a healthy mind and body. Beyond the yoga classes and mindfulness workshops, it’s about creating an environment where staff feel stimulated; where both their professional goals and personal needs are catered for. Many tech businesses are starting to incorporate breakout spaces, where ‘no-tech zones’ or meditation areas provide employees with a haven of solitude.

It’s no secret that diverse groups innovate better, so companies should aim to advertise open vacancies through a multitude of platforms and channels to ensure their outreach harnesses a diverse talent pool. Only by ensuring a diverse, open and inclusive culture, instilled from the top down, can today’s organisations hope to retain the talent they work so hard to secure.

By Dan Boughton

Dan Boughton is a people operations assistant at Huckletree.

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