Beyond Pride Month: Creating an Inclusive Workplace Climate at Axiom
By Axiom Law
Pride month may have come to a close earlier this summer, but building a diverse and inclusive workplace and celebrating the contributions of LGBTQ employees and their allies is something workplaces can do all year round. While rainbow logos popped up all over social media for the month of June, at Axiom we feel it’s important to take a deeper look at what pride, visibility, and inclusion mean in the workplace. Not just during Pride month, but all year long.
Recently the Axiom New York office welcomed Beck Bailey, deputy director of the Workplace Equality Program of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), to discuss inclusion in the workplace, especially as it pertains to the LGBTQ community. Beck presented results from HRC’s third workplace survey, completed in 2018, entitled A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide.
The program was hosted by Outlaws, Axiom’s employee resource group for the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Outlaws organizes events and campaigns to support and celebrate LGBTQ employees throughout the company, and has also launched an evaluation of Axiom’s policies for LGBTQ employees. Axiom reached out to HRC to help us navigate what inclusion means in the workspace and to put our efforts into perspective. The study Beck and his team conducted focuses on the impact of conscious and unconscious bias has on company culture and the resulting performance of employees in the workplace. The program was especially well timed: Axiom recently introduced company-wide, mandatory unconscious bias training. Beck’s presentation was an opportunity to continue to open the conversation and have a dialogue about what inclusion looks like in the day-to-day workplace.
What is the climate for LGBTQ people in the workplace?
The findings in the HRC’s study are based on a sample of 804 LGBTQ respondents and 811 non-LGBTQ respondents, administered in February and March of 2018. Overall the study found that:
- Despite legal gains, 46% of LGBTQ workers are closeted at work, compared to 50% of workers surveyed in 2008
- While there is broad social acceptance for LGBTQ people, subtle biases remain
- Sexual orientation is still sexualized for members of the LGBTQ community
- Employers are losing employee engagement and, ultimately, employees due to anti-LGBTQ biases at work
- LGBTQ workers lack faith in employers' systems for reporting and addressing harassment and discrimination
The study found that 53% of respondents reported hearing anti-LGBTQ language and jokes at work, and that many LGBTQ participants said they remained closeted at work for fear of making their coworkers uncomfortable. In addition, 36% of non-LGBTQ workers said they would feel uncomfortable hearing an LGBTQ colleague talk about dating, and 59% of non-LGBTQ workers think that it is unprofessional to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. This is especially the case because non-LGBTQ people often conflate sexual orientation with sex, which is deemed an “unacceptable” topic for the workplace.
During his presentation at Axiom, Beck Baily elaborated on this point, noting, “We like to think that when we are at work we are dealing with ‘work’ but everyone shares their non-work related attributes in the workplace. Everyone comes to these conversations and relationships with their predispositions and individual belief systems– whether we are conscious of them or not.”
The impact of unconscious bias
The Workplace Divided study shows that when people are able to be their full selves and be fully engaged at their job, they do better work, stay at a company longer, and contribute more original ideas. A welcoming environment is not only made up of workplace policies, practices, and equitable benefits, but dependent upon workplace culture and relationships between coworkers. The study found that those workplace relationships are strengthened through “getting to know you” chit-chat that includes talk about family, children, social activities, relationships and dating, and workplace gossip. When it comes to this kind of casual information sharing the HRC found that LGBTQ employees are often subjected to a “double standard” – while their acceptance in the workplace depends upon sharing personal information, they often more likely to be subject to discrimination when they discuss their partner, dating, or personal life.
Beck pointed out that, “All of the hesitations to coming out from survey participants are about relationships. People feel like ‘I don’t want anything to come between my ability to be successful on that team.’ They’re all related to teaming, colleague relationships, and if they are a manager, team building, rapport, and leadership, which are all related to success.”
Beck emphasized that these findings are not just about LGBTQ employees feeling “lonely” at work, but about the negative impact that bias, social exclusion, and discrimination has on performance, professional success, personal development, employee engagement, productivity, and innovation. In fact, the survey found that 25% of LGBTQ workers feel distracted at work due to an unwelcoming environment and 1 in 10 LGBTQ workers left a job because of an unaccepting work environment.
David Dunleavy, vice president of sales, commerce and industry at Axiom, remarked on the impact being closeted had on his own career, “When I started my career over 20 years ago I remember being afraid of anyone at work learning I was gay for fear of it having a negative impact on my career, or worse being fired. I spent a lot of wasted energy evading discussions about my personal life; dodging the topic of what I did over the weekend to ensure that no one would suspect I was gay. That’s why visibility is important so that a person struggling to come ‘out’ has role models and people to turn to that are a safe space; visibility enables an organization to evolve and helps ensure an inclusive culture where people are valued for their work product and where they feel safe to be themselves!”
Towards an inclusive workplace
Creating a truly welcoming workplace where people can take pride in who they are and can do their best work will always be a work in progress. While the HRC’s study focused on the LGBTQ community, Beck remarked that, “LGBTQ inclusion is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ of workplace inclusion. For people who are part of minority populations that may be more visible, due to ethnicity, race, ability, or gender, if they have a workplace that is doing good work around LGBTQ inclusion, they are generally doing good work across the board.”
The survey also found that allies are becoming increasingly likely to step up to address negative comments they hear about LGBTQ people and that this can have a positive impact on a workplace culture overall. Beyond examining individual attitudes towards LGBTQ people and the language that may unintentionally include or exclude, the HRC recommends accessing your workplace’s starting point when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion and provides a series of resources to do so, in order to determine the next steps forward. Those could include creating opportunities for professional development and networking where members of minority communities can self-identify as being part of those groups, or starting employee resource groups, such as Outlaws at Axiom, for mentoring and support for members of different minority communities.
Overall, inclusion has an impact on everyone’s performance. As Heather Deane, vice president of global strategic accounts at Axiom, emphasized, “We spend a lot of our lives at work—it’s important to be able to show up in an authentic way and bring your whole self to your colleagues and work. If people don’t feel a real sense of belonging, everyone suffers, whether they realize it or not."
Many thanks to Beck Bailey and the Human Rights Campaign for helping us continue to open the conversation about what inclusion, a healthy workplace culture, and allyship look like at Axiom and help companies around the globe think about how they can do the same for Pride month and every month.