Creating a culture of 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusivity: A guide for employers

June 25, 2024

For plan members, sponsors and administrators

This article offers recommendations for fostering and sustaining a 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive workplace culture. It underscores the significance of workplace 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusivity for employee satisfaction, labour market competitiveness, and organizational success. We outline the advantages of an environment where all individuals feel valued and have equitable access to resources for success, while promoting authenticity and diverse perspectives.

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Today, more organizations are prioritizing policies that foster authenticity and inclusivity in the workplace, driven by competition pressures and belief that it’s the right thing to do for employee engagement and well-being. 

While long-standing policies, processes, and practices often can’t be altered overnight, the journey begins with a long-term commitment to change, which is supported by strategic and resourced actions.

"Creating a truly inclusive workplace is an ongoing journey,” says Dr. Georgia Pomaki (she/her), who leads the Mental Health Best Practices team at Manulife and has a Ph.D. in occupational mental health. “Organizations must continually strive to enhance their diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure that everyone feels psychologically secure, valued, and supported in their mental health and well-being.”

Seeing their company make efforts to support and invest in their community can mean a lot to 2SLGBTQIA+ employees, family members of employees, allies as well as clients and customers. 

“2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion in workplaces has a clear positive impact on the inclusion of all,” says Jade Pichette (they/them), Director of Programs at Pride at Work Canada. "It is important that this work is done with authenticity and includes 2SLGBTQIA+ people in all parts of the process. By creating a truly welcoming environment based in authenticity, organizations are able to harness innovation and translate it into success." 

In this article, we explore a series of recommendations, developed by Manulife in collaboration with Pride at Work Canada and Cleveland Clinic Canada, aimed at helping organizations better support a 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive workplace culture. 

This information is meant to help encourage ongoing improvement in Canadian workplaces, recognizing that even organizations with robust Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs can face challenges or require time to implement recommendations.

Recommendations for promoting and maintaining a 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive workplace culture

1. Prioritize inclusive policies and benefits

Review and update workplace policies to use gender-neutral language. Include explicit language for employee protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Introduce inclusive benefits, including gender-affirming care, as well as inclusive parental and bereavement leave policies.

2. Engage 2SLGBTQIA+ employees and support employee resource groups (ERGs)

Create opportunities for 2SLGBTQIA+ employees and allies to connect, share their voices in the organization, access benefits and supports, and advocate for needed change in the workplace. In smaller organizations these may take the form of employee-led committees, such as a Pride or Inclusion committee.

"By providing platforms for 2SLGBTQIA+ employees and allies to engage, express their perspectives, access resources, and advocate for change, we can cultivate an inclusive environment where everyone's contributions are recognized and appreciated,” says Richard Cornwall (he/him), Head of Protection Solutions, Affinity Management at Manulife and co-chair of PROUD Employee Resource Group. “I envision a workplace where conversations about the latest drag show winner are as commonplace at the water cooler as discussions about last night's hockey game.” 

Consider using anonymous employee engagement surveys to gather data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and other DEI-related information to help you gauge the effectiveness of your 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusivity efforts. Make sure you can’t identify individual survey participants through the survey data and communicate this fact to employees. This data can provide valuable insights into your workforce demographics, particularly for employees who may not openly disclose their 2SLGBTQIA+ status.

3. Enable expression of gender identity for employees

Ensure that employees have the opportunity to specify their gender (not just sex) and preferred names within systems for human resources, information technology, and security. This empowers employees to express their identity rather than being limited to the information found in their legal documents. When requesting information on employee gender, it's beneficial to provide at least a third option in addition to man/woman.

4. Encourage pronoun-sharing in the workplace

Encourage and normalize pronoun-sharing during meetings and introductions, especially meetings led by allies and leaders in the workplace. Add pronouns to display names on name tags, office doors, email signatures, intranets, virtual meeting display names, workplace channels, and anywhere else where names are displayed.

5. Promote inclusive approaches to activities and events

Avoid segregating or grouping employees by gender when possible, such as during team-building exercises.

Ensure that gendered spaces are inclusive of 2SLGBTQIA+ employees, such as in women’s leadership and professional development spaces, by using inclusive language and allowing employees to selfselect into groups and programs.

6. Invest in 2SLGBTQIA+ talent

Look to create more diverse leadership teams and succession plans by setting representation goals for 2SLGBTQIA+ employees getting access to professional growth opportunities, mentorship and sponsorship programs, and executive committees and working groups. Having diversity in leadership can also inspire others in the organization and show that there are opportunities for 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals to grow and succeed.

“2SLGBTQIA+ employees often struggle with the stressful and isolating experience of being an ‘only’ in the workplace, a feeling that can be exacerbated for employees with intersectional identities,” says Dr. Michelle Roseman (she/her) with Cleveland Clinic Canada, who is a family medicine physician with expertise in 2SLGBTQIA+ health care. “Increasing 2SLGBTQIA+ representation matters and helps to promote a sense of belonging.”

Keep in mind that involving a diverse group in your organization’s decision-making processes avoids groupthink, which arises when there is little diversity among decision makers. Groupthink increases the likelihood of biased decisions, potentially making it difficult for employees to voice dissenting opinions. Instead, diversity in decision-making groups promotes more informed discussion of potential challenges, outcomes, and solutions. 1

7. Promote respect without disclosure

Remember that not all 2SLGBTQIA+ employees will choose to be out at work or in their personal lives. It is imperative to promote respect and inclusion without focusing on disclosure, and to maintain discretion when discussing individual needs of 2SLGBTQIA+ employees to protect privacy. 

8. Encourage visible and vocal allyship

Display pride flags in the form of stickers, posters, and email signature images to promote visible allyship in the workplace and contribute to a culture of belonging and safety for 2SLGBTQIA+ employees. Consider accompanying this with an allyship program that trains employees to support an inclusive culture and look to share information on 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion with all employees, such as relevant policies and initiatives.2

Competitive advantage of a 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive workplace

Organizations that prioritize inclusivity are better equipped to comprehend and connect with the diverse needs of their clientele.1 According to a Gartner report from 2022, 75% of organizations with diverse and inclusive decision-making teams will exceed their financial targets. 

Moreover, gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperformed gender-homogeneous, less inclusive teams by 50%, on average.3 These more inclusive teams lend themselves to a better understanding of relevant product and service development, competitive retention, and expansion into new markets.

Talent advantage of a 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive workplace

A Pride at Work study found that employees are likely to leave workplaces in which they don’t feel supported. The same study notes that members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community who are racially and ethnically diverse peoples face more barriers due to the intersection of racism and homophobia.4

According to a study from Deloitte, over one-third of respondents are actively looking to move to a more 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive organization. This figure is even higher for racially and ethnically diverse peoples (52%).5

Workplaces that support and celebrate diversity not only better retain their current talent, but they remain competitive in the job market by evolving with society.1

2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive workplaces tend to attract and retain talent, as employees are more likely to stay in environments where they feel supported and valued.1 With approximately 30% of Gen Z adults identifying with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community,7 this trend will likely continue.

Cultivating 2SLGBTQIA+ health in the workplace

The stories in this special report encourage you to consider how your employee benefits programs and company policies can support staff members from all backgrounds, genders, and identities.

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