Good intentions aren’t always enough when it comes to LGBTIQ+ inclusion. HRM asks two organisations how to make them stick.
Coming out at work isn’t an easy decision. Employees might fear retaliation or discrimination from colleagues, or worry that opening up to their employer could hamper their career progression.
These fears can be alleviated when employers not only provide support, but also take a strong, public stance on LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the workplace.
So how does an organisation do that, and do it well? To celebrate Pride Month, HRM asked experts from QBE Insurance and RMIT University about how they created greater LGBTIQ+ inclusion in their workplaces
Pride networks and groups
Part of RMIT and QBE’s success is that both organisations utilise the experiences of LGBTIQ+ employees to form the basis of their diversity policies.
QBE’s early talent consultant, Ben Brown, says it was a ‘loud and proud’ group of employees that helped QBE become the employer it is today.
“There was kind of a renaissance for Pride networks in 2015,” he says.
“A few employees got together so they could talk openly about the issues they faced. When the group grew, they started forming strategies and soon enough they became an official committee.”
QBE’s Pride Committee is the linchpin for its LGBTIQ+ strategy. The committee works closely with QBE’s D&I team, and organises events and initiatives, such as providing support for employees who are on gender affirmation journeys.
“Coming into an organisation and knowing your company supports you enables you to be at your best. You’re able to do extraordinary things, knowing you don’t have to worry if you’ll be accepted.”
Fuelling QBE’s success is the fact that the Pride Committee became ingrained in its general operations, says QBE head of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing, Catherine McNair.
For example, when QBE was reviewing its brand and voice style guide, the team behind the guide engaged the committee to ensure the use of inclusive terms and language.
“There was a focus on creating something that respected all sexual orientations, and gender identities or expressions,” says McNair. “The simple change to ‘partner or spouse’, instead of ‘husband or wife’, or ‘parent’ over ‘mum and dad’, can make a difference,” she adds.
Even after the voice style guide was published, the committee remained engaged with the team to keep the guide up to date as terminology changed.
A recent example was the change from ‘preferred pronouns’ to ‘personal gender pronouns’.
After years of focusing on LGBTIQ+ initiatives within the workplace, QBE now provides support to its customers and others in the insurance industry.
Last year, it ran a competition to select customers to go on its float in the 2020 Sydney Mardi Gras parade. Customers were asked to write what Mardi Gras meant to them for the chance to be chosen. Brown says the entries were “extremely touching”.
“For us, it was like, ‘These are the people we do this for.’ It was a glimpse at the impact the committee was having outside the organisation,” says Brown.
QBE isn’t the only organisation to go through a Pride renaissance. At a similar point in time, over at RMIT University, important discussions were taking place about its LGBTIQ+ inclusion strategy.
Through consultation with students and employees, the university made the decision to move beyond the term ‘LGBTIQ’. Instead, it started using ‘diverse genders, sexes and sexualities’ (DGSS).
RMIT D&I program lead Maci Hamdorf says this term was decided by the RMIT DGSS working group, which includes a cross section of employees and students representing various strategic functions of RMIT, to better encapsulate the experiences of thousands of employees, students and stakeholders who interact with the university.
Outside of the group, RMIT’s Ally Network gathers over 400 employees who wish to act as visible, active advocates and supports for the DGSS community.
“You’re able to do extraordinary things, knowing you don’t have to worry if you’ll be accepted.” Ben Brown, early talent consultant, QBE
Setting the standard
When Brown joined QBE’s Pride Committee in 2017, the group was at somewhat of a standstill. They had the right foundation, but needed help taking things to the next level, so they brought in Pride in Diversity as an LGBTIQ+ inclusion partner.
“With them we worked on creating comprehensive training programs for employees so they could learn what LGBTIQ+ actually means,” says Brown.
RMIT also works closely with Pride in Diversity. Hamdorf says it has become an important source of knowledge to guide key inclusion decisions.
“Pride in Diversity’s Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) serves as a roadmap to becoming an inclusive organisation,” she says.
The AWEI sets the national benchmark of LGBTIQ+ workplace inclusion. Organisations that are serious about LGBTIQ+ inclusion aim for the gold or platinum level.
RMIT qualified for platinum in 2020 and was named the AWEI Employer of the Year in 2019 and 2020. QBE jumped from bronze to gold in 2019, and was named in the top three LGBTIQ+ employers in 2020.
Employers can earn points across 10 different sections when applying to the AWEI. The sections cover criteria such as using inclusive language and terminology in workplace policies, visible advocacy from senior employees and active data collection about the experiences of LGBTIQ+ employees.
For organisations applying to the AWEI, HR plays an important role. HR policy and diversity practice makes up nearly half the points available for small organisations (under 500 employees). The remaining criteria mostly falls into HR’s remit too, with only eight points awarded to ‘executive leadership and engagement’ for both small and standard (over 500 employees) organisations.
Only five employers have reached the platinum level for standard organisations, while there are no platinum employers among small organisations.
Similar to a Reconciliation Action Plan, getting onto the AWEI is not a once off thing. Higher level employers must maintain their status by continually improving their LGBTIQ+ inclusion strategies.
Along with aiming for a gold or silver level, the AWEI let’s employers see where they sit among other organisations in their industry and those of a similar size.
Hearts and minds
When QBE turned to another AWEI initiative – the index’s workplace survey – to help further strengthen LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the company, they realised employees didn’t necessarily understand the broader LGBTIQ+ community
The Pride committee decided to create a two-pronged initiative to educate employees about the ‘B’ and ‘T’ in LGBTIQ+.
“We ended up producing the first two of our ‘Learn more about the LGBTIQ+’ series which had an educational element where we ‘engaged minds’,” says Brown.
“Two committee members who had lived experiences [one] as bisexual woman and [another as] a transgender woman answered questions relating to their experiences which ‘engaged hearts’.”
To create these videos, the committee knew they would need senior buy-in to push the content to the wider QBE employee base.
The committee chose to line up the release of the video with Pride Month 2018, a time when senior leaders were already talking about LGBTIQ+ visibility, particularly since the tagline for that year was #BeVisible.
“Our QBE Pride executive sponsors and other executives across QBE were supportive and posted the content on [QBE’s workplace messaging app] and other social channels,” says Ben.
The initiative worked. Brown says the committee saw an influx of people wanting to join, and the number of members who identified as bisexual swelled from two to 13.
“The numbers of those identifying as a diverse sexuality or gender have only increased each year, and we attribute this to QBE Pride having a solid strategy in place and producing easily accessible support content for both LGBTIQ+ employees and their allies,” he says.
Showing the faces of the LGBTIQ+ community within QBE also has a positive flow-on effect to other employees.
“When people can see that their family member or their friend is actually a part of the community and how it relates to them and their experience, it’s quite powerful.”
“That’s where the real change comes from,” he says.
For McNair, it’s about moving the conversation beyond just being tolerant of the LGBTIQ+ community to actually being empathetic towards them.
“People will say ‘yeah I get it. I’m ok with it’. Well, we don’t just want you to be ok with it. We want you to empathise and understand each other,” says McNair.
The ‘Learn more about the LGBTIQ+’ series worked to engage hearts and minds.
Brown says the environment has become increasingly open-minded since they released the videos.
“Our main goal was to break down stereotypes and provide insight from those with lived experiences,” he says.
“People are more open to discussion about inclusion and diversity now than ever before.”
Do you have an exemplary LBGTIQ+ initiative in your workplace? Nominate your organisation for the Michael Kirby LGBTIQ+ Inclusion Award today.