Is Your Startup a Safe and Inclusive Space for LGBTQ+ Talent?
Roisin Phelan, June 29th 2022

With Pride month coming to an end, it’s important to look at ways that you can make your scaling company a safe and inclusive environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community all year round. 

As a startup, your team is what makes or breaks your success. And a diverse team, is a strong team.  

So here’s 4 steps you can take to make sure your startup isn’t missing out on a whole lot of LGBTQ+ talent:  

Avoid creating gender divides 

As we adopt more of a hybrid working culture, for some of us the days of strict dress-codes might be a thing of the past- but for others the ‘men wear shirts, girls wear skirts’ divide is stress-provoking and leaves people feeling ostracised.  

So, if dress-codes are important to you as an employer, think about how you can create a gender-neutral policy- for example ‘Employees must wear smart dress- i.e. shirt and trousers/skirt.’ This way any trans or non-binary employees- (or people who don’t like wearing skirts!) can choose what smart dress they feel comfortable in.  

Likewise, make sure if long hair or jewellery needs to be tied back or away for safety reasons, this is for all employees, regardless of gender. 

And if you’ve got the option to offer unisex toilets that’s another great way to make your workspace more inclusive. But if you can’t change the bathrooms because you’re in a shared office etc. then make it clear your employees can use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using.  

There’s little point putting up messages of inclusivity across your website and socials if you’re not actually changing your spaces to be inclusive.  

Are your policies inclusive? 

In your startup, do your policies reflect the team you have?  

A lot of companies slip-up with gendered language in their forms and this can leave people feeling like there isn’t a space for them at the company. Some people feel uncomfortable or unsafe ticking he/she- so instead try replacing these pronouns with they/them/ the employee/ you etc.  

And have a look through your policies- replace husband/wife with partner and make sure all policies that apply to married couples also apply to civil partnerships.  

Likewise, switch ‘maternity leave’ to ‘parental leave’ and make your policy on adoption clear.  

This gendered language can slip into everyday conversation more than you think. How are you addressing your team in morning meetings/emails?  

Replace terms like guys, ladies and gents, girls with folks, all, everyone, team etc.  

And many employers have started putting their pronouns in their email signatures and social bios to help encourage their team to do the same. Small gestures like this help to normalise people talking about pronouns in the workspace.  

We all slip up from time to time, but mistakes are inevitable. So instead of getting angry or embarrassed, use these opportunities to listen and learn from those around you. 

It’s not your employee’s responsibility to educate the team  

There’s a lot of ignorance surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. 

And it’s only natural to ask questions when you don’t understand something, but don’t ask probing personal questions that you wouldn’t ask any other employees.  

Always remember, your team need to be educated, but the responsibility of education doesn’t fall to your LGBTQ+ employees. The workplace should be a safe place where everyone can come in and do their job without fear. And besides, one person doesn’t speak for a whole community of people- and they shouldn’t have to.  

And don’t wait to implement training after there’s an incident at work. This kind of diversity and inclusion training should be preventative, not reactive.  

But if there is an incident in the office- or behind the screen, how you react will determine whether this kind of thing will happen again.  

What wellbeing initiatives do you have in place at your startup?  

Nobody wants to feel unsafe at work (or anywhere else for that matter!)  

A threat to wellbeing doesn’t have to be the taunts of a colleague, it can be as simple as the sudden silence when your employee enters a room, or the building pressure of having to put a front on at work.  

Being part of a marginalised community can be emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting, so providing access to affordable and private wellbeing is often a lifeline.  

Consider partnering with startups like Kalda- an LGBTQIA+ wellbeing app created and built by and for the LGBTQIA+ community.  

There are so many friends, families and allies of the community that are working to make the workplace a safer environment for all.  

So, next time you’re thinking of arranging a charity fundraiser, is there a local LGBTQ+ charity that you could champion?  

Next time you hear an inappropriate homophobic slur thinly veiled as a joke, will you speak up? 

Next time you sit down to write a job advert, will you ensure that the advert is free from gendered-language and promotes inclusivity? 

Pride month may be trending on LinkedIn, and you might join the big brands with their rainbow logos, but when July comes around and the rainbow flag is no longer on trend, will you still be championing LGBTQ+ voices in your startup? 

Because ultimately, waving the flag means nothing if you’re not prepared to make positive change within your own company.  

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