by Dr. Colleen Batchelder
Imagine, if you will, a neighborhood brimming with people. The community is vibrant with vivid landscapes and joyful smiles, but each resident remains cloistered in their home. They wave to one another through the glass panes and enjoy the morning breeze from their own front yard. But they never leave their welcome mat. They refuse to venture outside of their box. Now, this picture might look familiar because the majority of us are still living within this reality of social distancing during Covid-19. But, what if this type of behavior became the norm for the next fifty years?
Many within the LGBTQIA+ community have been a victim of social distancing and segregation within the workplace for eons. However, it didn’t always come in the form of outright bias. Often, it was masked under the guise of tolerance. When the movement towards tolerance became popular, it seemed like a quick-fix solution for corporations. However, it didn’t necessarily create a culture of inclusion. If anything, it birthed organizational discrimination based on assumption.
Brynn Tannehill, a board member of the Trans United Fund, describes her own journey with tolerance and explains, “You aren’t a threat to them, but you are alien, you are other. People smile and nod, but they don’t see. Living in a tolerant but not accepting workplace means walking on eggshells, talking around your history, and being surrounded by people who keep conversations and relationships strictly professional.” For Tannehill and countless individuals, tolerance failed to provide inclusion for LGBTQIA+ individuals because it solely deferred to the lens of heteronormativity. This deferment not only stripped certain people groups of protection. It also removed their ability to protest. Jump forward a few years, and justice for all is still waiting to come to fruition.
According to a recent report from USA Today, “About half of LGBTQ people in the U.S. – 52% – live in states where they could be fired, nixed for a promotion, refused training or harassed at their jobs, all because of their gender identity and sexual orientation.” It’s 2020, and less than half of all states have any form of legal protection for 11 million people who identify as LGBTQIA+. These statistics should lead everyone to repulsion, but more than that, they should compel business leaders to action. Tolerance isn’t working. However, inclusion could create a lasting solution. So, how do business leaders go from tolerance to inclusion? Here are four tips to get you started on the right path:
Inclusion Means Leaving the Welcome Mat and Getting on the Dance Floor
Verna Myers said it best, “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.” There is a strict difference between these two ideas. Dancing requires trust. It’s a conversation between two people that weaves back-and-forth. Inclusion, as a dance, requires leaders to take the lead and follow. If business leaders want to create a culture of inclusion, then they have to change the music and make it danceable. When they shift in their interaction and enter into a conversation with their LGBTQIA+ employees, they present them with the opportunity to respond and react. This means that companies need to make the first move and ask for input. This requires a willingness to listen and a readiness to change. It requires business leaders to get on the dance floor and to learn a new rhythm.
Inclusion Means Flagging Discriminatory Comments; Not Just Flying the Pride Flag Annually
Repeat this with me and post it on every mirror that you have in your home: inclusion is not branding. LGBTQIA+ discrimination cannot be changed through artsy merchandise or a rainbow logo during June. Inclusion is more than showing up for a march. It requires business leaders to operate from a place of respect, representation, and reconstruction. One of the easiest ways to develop these aspects of inclusion is to form committees that are diversified. This presents LGBTQIA+ employees with the opportunity to educate and lead the conversations of inclusion. When business leaders provide space for people to be educated, they not only create a more inclusive work environment. They also present a united front of support for their LGBTQIA+ employees.
Inclusion Means that Pronouns are Learned and Gender Identity is Respected
One of the most basic ways that companies can create an inclusive environment is to learn an employee’s pronoun. This requires business leaders to take on the stance of a student; not a teacher. When companies take the time to interact and understand gender identity, they operate from the position of inclusion; not assumption. In order to prevent gender biases, companies must implement this standard within mandated policies and hold all levels of employees accountable.
Intention is imperative for change. However, when intention only manifests as idealism, it leaves vast amounts of people at risk for discrimination. Inclusion has to go beyond idealism and mission statements. It must be greater than branding and tokenism. If business leaders desire to create a culture of inclusivity, then they have to be willing to take the risk, learn the language, and enter into collaboration with their LGBTQIA+ employees. After all, inclusion, much like a vehicle, has to be run––it has to leave the garage once in a while and venture onto the roadway.