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In conversation with Dr Luke Fletcher: Transgender and LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace

Research shows there’s still work to be done on transgender inclusion in the workplace. So what can we as HR professionals do about it?

30345 Luke Fletcher Portrait - School of Management.   Studio ID Portraits. Client:  Luke Fletcher - SoM

To mark Pride month, our reporter Johnny Swierczynski spoke to Dr Luke Fletcher, an Associate Professor in Human Resource Management at the University of Bath’s School of Management, whose latest research focuses on LGBT+ people.

Before we dive into the article, it’s important to note that Dr Fletcher is a cisgender gay man. Throughout the article, we discuss aspects of HR practice specifically relating to transgender employees. Whilst some policies have broader benefits for all staff, this article aims to highlight some of the work that can help transgender people feel more included as he believes is an area of HR that currently lacks emphasis. Whilst Dr Luke Fletcher is an ally to the trans community, he can only speak on these matters based on his research, rather than his own lived experiences.

JS: Can we start by mapping out the current challenges faced by LGBT+ people in the workplace?

LF: They are more likely to experience workplace conflict and harassment than their heterosexual, cisgender co-workers and there are also key challenges around authenticity and disclosure. Whilst heterosexual cisgender people tend to feel comfortable discussing their partners and children with their work friends, it may not feel so comfortable for many of their LGBT+ counterparts. Something as simple as a group of colleagues having an informal chat about their personal lives can be challenging.

JS: And what impact does that have on LGBT+ employees?

LF: It creates a lot of emotional labour for them. ‘Coming out of the closet’ is often talked about, but the reality is that for LGBT+ people they have to come out multiple times when meeting new people because of the assumption that people are heterosexual and cisgender. If a transgender person is going through the start of their transitionary journey for instance, they often begin by telling their manager and colleagues that they want to use different gender pronouns and that can create significant stress and anxiety for them.

JS: So what can HR professionals do to better support trans employees? 

LF: It’s about small but important changes that signal and foster inclusivity like encouraging staff to include their pronouns in their email signature. Importantly, inclusive practices generally tend to benefit all staff, rather than just a minority because they create an accepting environment in which people feel they can thrive authentically.

JS: What about employees that don’t want to come out in their work environment?

LF: These decisions are hugely personal so HRDs should take the time to create an environment which allows people to feel safe to make decisions that work for them in regards to their identity. Put simply, one size doesn’t fit all. That’s why it is so important for HRDs to create that environment where LGBT+ staff (and all staff) can thrive and be who they want to be at work, rather than applying a blanket approach.

JS: What can HRDs and their organisations do to create a safe environment for LGBT+ staff

LF: There’s plenty that businesses can do but this doesn’t only apply to large organisations. It’s important for smaller firms to create an inclusive environment even if they don’t think there’s any members of staff that are LGBT+. The problem at the moment is also that in some organisations the rhetoric doesn’t live up to the reality. It’s important to set the key structural foundations first and then do the marketing.

"As part of my research with the CIPD, we also looked at conflict in the workplace and found that adding inclusive HR practices can reduce this even if you don’t think you have any visible [LGBT] identities in your workplace."

CIPD Report Bar Chart

JS: Can you talk us through some of the key steps towards creating inclusivity?

LF: Start with developing a clear strategy around diversity and inclusion. This doesn’t just include LGBT+, but also the broader picture. What are your aspirations for the business in terms of diversity and inclusion? Once you’ve identify your diversity and inclusion strategy, this needs to trickle down into specific policies that will target minority groups in the workforce or that you would like to attract to the business. Again, this doesn’t just apply to LGBT+ staff, but specific policies should exist for each minority group as each one will have different needs.

This could include for instance policies on same-sex partner benefits, pension schemes, anti-discrimination and management training. The policies must then cascade through the business. So it might be a physical manifestation like gender-neutral toilets or the updating of HR technical systems so that when a member of staff discloses that they would like to transition gender, their preferred name and pronouns are updated in the system for payroll and official communications.

JS: How do we better support management staff to deal with LGBT+ inclusion?

LF: Management training on sexual orientation and gender identity is key. Many managers are not going to be dealing with LGBT+ issues every day but the skills to do so need to be viewed as a routine – and vital – part of management responsibilities, like health and safety training say. Managers need to know how to approach these situations in a sensitive way because the first port of call for trans and non-binary people who want to transition is usually their line manager.

JS: What benefits do businesses get from providing a safe environment for LGBT+ staff

LF: As we’ve discussed, employees’ emotional labour around negotiating their identity at work depletes their energy and focus. By creating a safe environment where your staff will feel like they can be themselves, they’ll be able to participate more. Providing an inclusive space for LGBT+ members of staff will also attract talent – but just as importantly retain it. Some transgender people will choose to leave their current organisation once they start their transition journey for an environment where they feel safer so it’s important to act in order to retain them. As part of my research with the CIPD, we also looked at conflict in the workplace and found that adding inclusive HR practices can reduce this even if you don’t think you have any visible [LGBT] identities in your workplace.

More resources

Key Words

Gender identity is a person’s innate sense of their own gender whether male, female or something else (e.g., non-binary), which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.

Sexual orientation is an umbrella term describing a person’s attraction to other people. This attraction may be sexual (sexual orientation) and/or romantic (romantic orientation). These terms refer to a person’s sense of identity based on their attractions, or lack thereof.

Authenticity is about the felt experience that the way that you’re expressing yourself in the workplace is aligned as much as possible with your true self. 

Disclosure is about being open and communicating about your sexual orientation or gender identity.

Cis gender is when someone identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.

For more LGBT+ related definitions, we recommend visiting Stonewall’s website.

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