Blogpost by Jienan Chen
June 10, 2022
This month, we at OSP are committed to learning about employment barriers faced by people who identify as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. In a 2017 Canada-wide survey conducted by Pride at Work Canada, 34% of 2SLGBTQ+ participants stated that they feared identity-based discrimination at their workplaces, and 54% of respondents expressed concern with potential workplaces being 2SLGBTQ+ friendly as a factor in their job searches. In the same year as the survey, the Federal Government amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on “gender identity and gender expression”. With that barrier seemingly gone and the Government committed to protecting 2SLGBTQ+ people’s rights, has the situation improved?
The answer might be yes, but with caveats. “Despite this progress, […] much remains to be done so that this community is accepted and respected throughout [Canada],” it says in the preface of the 2SLGBTQ+ Inclusiveness Toolkit for Inclusive Municipalities in Canada and Beyond prepared by SOCIAL iMPACT Research & Consulting for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO). While there is progress at the law level, progress still needs to trickle down to many workplaces. As of May 15, 2022, Pride at Work’s homepage claims that “59% of organizations communicate a strong leadership message on the importance of 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace to all employees.”, leaving 41% of organizations left with work to do. And in a recent study by Ashrafee Tanvir Hossain (linked below), it was found that some CEOs do not encourage their companies to undertake 2SLGBTQ+ equality initiatives at all.
Hossain suspects that the CEOs are acting on behalf of unsupportive shareholders, who believe that it is not worth the cost to the organization to prioritize inclusive values. However, this shareholder perception does not consider the costs of not being inclusive. An inclusive corporate culture has been shown to assist organizations in developing a good reputation and branding. Positive perception and a sense of shared values is often key to consumer interest in supporting the product or services of organizations. Therefore, it is not a leap to link positive consumer perceptions to a better bottom line for the company. In addition to external benefits, there are additional internal benefits to inclusion. Organizations that prioritize diverse talents and perspectives in workplaces often see the benefits of diversity through the creation of innovative ideas for products or problem solving. And employees who feel safe and happy tend to be more productive and loyal to the organization.
Enabling 2SLGBQT+ friendly workplace practices are not simply a matter of good PR for a company. Inclusivity in the workplace matters greatly to the well-being of 2SLGBQT+ employees, particularly since these are the environments in which they spend most of their waking hours. And the stakes can be high. Without inclusive workplaces, 2SLGBTQ+ employees can be prone to minority stress — defined as stress based on ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity that differs from the dominant values in the workplace or community. Some 2SLGBTQ+ people today choose to hide their identities at work to avoid discriminatory comments or actions. Consequently, they are at a higher of developing certain mental health issues, states the Ontario branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, which, in a workplace setting, can be associated with burnout, lack of motivation, and, ultimately, employee churn.
How can workplaces become more inclusive for 2SLGBQT+ employees?
In their report, the CCUNESCO recommends six “quick wins” to improve your organization’s inclusivity practices to support your 2SLGBQT employees and coworkers. Simply stated, they are:
- Provide safe access to washrooms and change rooms: inform staff that they can choose to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable using. Consider changing the signs on single-stall bathrooms to gender-neutral ones.
- Use the correct pronouns: Add pronouns and honorifics to email signatures and introduce yourself to others, including your pronouns. For instance, “My name is Jienan Chen, and my pronouns are ‘he,’ ‘him,’ and ‘his.’”
- Audit workplace forms, policies and procedures for gender-inclusive language: Use gender-neutral language; provide non-binary options on forms with questions regarding individuals’ sex/gender.
- Develop and communicate a commitment statement to diversity and inclusion; make it public.
- Support employee resource groups: Seek employee resource groups’ opinions when developing inclusive practices and spaces.
- Celebrate Pride and recognize 2SLGBTQ+ related days of observance
Additionally, education is key: provide diversity and inclusion training to staff. Include information on the history of 2SLGBTQ+ identities and some of the “quick wins” above. Be clear that you do not tolerate discrimination in your workplace, and model appropriate behavior to your employees and colleagues. Combined, these are just some of many ways an organization should be heading in the right direction in terms of creating an environment where everyone feels accepted. And understand that best practices may shift over time. It is important for an organization to evaluate their efforts on an ongoing basis. They can and should monitor their workplaces and ask for staff feedback to determine how they can continuously improve.
Despite the Federal Government’s efforts, the discriminatory barriers between 2SLGBTQ+ people and employers are still lurking in Canada. For years, the 2SLGBTQ+ community have been chipping at them, but broader progress comes from more than just hard work within communities themselves. Social change happens through a combination of allyship and action from everyone who wants to forge new paths to inclusivity. Every person deserves an opportunity to work in an environment where they feel safe and welcomed. For this to occur, it might take some time; that is more the reason for us take the first steps in creating inclusive workplaces today.
For more information on the topic discussed in this post, consider the following resources: