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How to Authentically Support Your LGBTQ+ Colleagues

Here at SmartRecruiters, we’re all about giving our teammates the tools to advocate across all dimensions of diversity authentically and sustainably. We believe that this crucial work starts by helping to share and amplify the diverse voices and underrepresented perspectives of our own coworkers and colleagues.

We know that understanding starts with dialogue, and we work to create a safe space for our teammates to share their experiences, insights and expertise – and most of all, their stories. It’s never easy to present in front of your coworkers no matter what, but it takes true courage to present your true self to your team, and share your personal life with your professional colleagues. 

That’s why I was so proud that two members of the LGBTQ+ community here at SmartRecruiters were brave enough to bring us together during Pride Month for an essential lesson in “How to Authentically Support Your LGBTQ+ Colleagues.” 

Hearing their personal stories and how their unique experiences shaped them created unforgettable moments for everyone who attended; their transparency, authenticity and willingness to answer questions about their own journeys was really inspiring. 

We talk a lot about bringing your whole self to work, but it’s amazing – and unforgettable – to see what that really looks like. And it made me pretty proud to be part of an organization that actually gives a voice to all with a goal to move from intention to impact. 

#BetterTogether: 5 Things Your LGBTQ+ Coworkers Think You Should Know

While the conversation was exclusively internal, it was fairly obvious that some of the most actionable advice and interesting insights were worth sharing with our larger community. What follows are some of the key lessons and top takeaways to consider when interacting with, and advocating for, our LGBTQ+ colleagues. 

Be Aware of the Implications of Global Travel.

It’s easy to forget that, even as our society becomes increasingly open and equitable for the LGBTQ+ community, sadly that progress still hasn’t extended to all countries or markets in which many of our companies do business. 

As a result, there might be occasions where an LGBTQ+ worker has a need to travel on business to a country where homosexuality is criminalized or illegal. It’s important to remember that personal safety, both physical and psychological, should always have prerogative over professional responsibilities. Not only is requiring travel to these places compromising their physical wellbeing, doing so can also put them in a situation where they’re being asked to sacrifice their personal values and emotional wellbeing, too. 

While this is an easy detail to overlook, it’s fairly obvious that asking anyone to go anywhere that condemns not only their personal identity, but also, directly challenges their way of life, is always asking too much. 

Most of us look at global travel as a perk of doing business, but for members of the LGBTQ+ community, these trips can often be fraught with potential challenges, both personal and legal. 

Therefore, this is something every employer needs to consider before asking anyone on their team to travel – and while it might seem like a minor detail, overlooking it can have major repercussions that are never worth the risk.

Words Matter. 

Think about how many times you’ve probably asked – albeit innocently – about your colleagues’ wives or husbands in casual conversation. There’s a good chance that when you did so, you assumed those coworkers were in heterosexual relationships, and when that’s not the case, what’s an obviously benign attempt at trying to build a bridge or make a connection with a colleague could have unintended consequences. 

For your LGBTQ+ teammates, even these seemingly harmless comments could make them feel ostracized or marginalized; making them feel included, without being overly intrusive, starts with reframing the conversation. 

How can you ask about a significant other or discuss personal relationships without unintentionally forcing the person to determine whether or not they’re in a safe situation, or force some spontaneous mental calculation on whether or not it’s worth it to “come out” to their coworker in that particular moment? 

Reframing the conversation, and realizing that even the smallest words make a big difference, are crucial for open, authentic and meaningful dialogue – particularly when it comes to making everyone feel accepted and included without having to repeatedly decide how much of themselves they’re willing to share.

Don’t force the conversation, and remember that small talk can be a big deal when dealing with your LGBTQ+ colleagues.

Authentic Connections Start With Shared Experiences.

Some of the most common challenges your LGBTQ+ colleagues face are not only familiar, but also universal experiences that transcend sexual orientation or identity. While we might not all have personally experienced the numerous obstacles confronting our LGBTQ+ colleagues every day, at a very personal level, it’s often our shared experiences that are the most profound.

As one of our presenters so eloquently put it: 

“We all come out in our life, at one point or another, in a different form. You all had to bring down that mask you had put up in front of your friends because you were lying. Maybe it was a substance abuse problem, maybe you were getting a divorce, maybe you just weren’t proud of something that you had done.

You have all had that experience where you thought ‘you know what?’ This is me. And you just have to accept me.”

And true acceptance starts by understanding that despite our differences, it’s our shared experiences and common connections that bring us together – and the things that unite us are always stronger than those that divide us.

At work, and in life.

Be Human.

One of our presenters shared a wonderful story about how the people in his rural community welcomed him and his husband with open arms after a recent move; while they had been hesitant about what their new neighbors’ attitudes and perceptions towards the LGBTQ+ community might be, it turned out these misgivings were, fortunately, entirely unfounded.

He said of their warm welcome, “It’s an example of the best of humanity and what I think people can do when they just accept people, regardless of who they love.”

This, to me, is the heart of what inclusion and belonging really mean. Sure. We spend a lot of time and effort addressing all the entrenched injustices and systemic inequities related to diversity, but we need to sometimes stop and ask how much we could change if we started with the smallest of steps – something that anyone can do, regardless of their background or their beliefs.

It’s as simple as this: make a commitment every day to treat people with dignity and respect, and by doing so we’re recognizing their value and their humanity. 

No matter what dimension of diversity someone may represent, we can be the best of humanity when we simply see the humanity in each other. 

The Work Continues.

To understand the numerous challenges confronting any community, it’s important to come at any conversation with a bit of context. While any dialogue about diversity is inherently emotional, doing a little research and coming equipped with some basic facts can go a long way into making any interaction more inclusive and meaningful.

When it comes to the LGBTQ+ community in particular, we learned a few eye opening facts that show that as much progress as we’ve made, we’re still a long way from true equality – and true belonging and acceptance – for our coworkers and colleagues. Consider:

Globally, 71 countries have actual criminal penalties for private, same sex activities between consenting adult men; 43 criminalize private same sex activities between consenting adult women. 

15 countries still have criminal penalties associated with expressing non-conforming gender identity or being transgender – and, most shockingly and sadly of all, there are still 11 countries in the world where you can be killed for being LGBTQ+. 

While it sounds ridiculous that who you love can be considered a capital crime in some countries, it’s equally absurd to think that here in the United States, so many of our LGBTQ+ colleagues and coworkers continue to struggle for full equality and the basic civil rights so many of us take for granted. 

Currently in the US, 38 states continue to permit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; similarly, the dangerous practice of “Conversion Therapy” for gay youth is only illegal in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have specific laws to protect transgender healthcare in state Medicaid programs – meaning that 31 states still allow their public health policies to be guided by private prejudices.

It might surprise you that it’s been a little over a year since the Supreme Court finally afforded federal protections to workers or job candidates based on their sexual identity or orientation, just one more sign there’s still a ton of work to do when it comes to making the world of work a more accepting, more inclusive place for our LGBTQ+ coworkers.

Remember: We’re all #BetterTogether.

Rocki Howard

Rocki is the Chief Diversity Officer at SmartRecruiters.