Across the globe, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) communities experience alienation, exclusion and discrimination on a daily basis and the workplace is no exception.
Many LGBT individuals, along with others who often find themselves in the minority or as outsiders in a group -- including women and racial/ethnic minorities -- can feel like the 'other' in the workplace.
This feeling of separation means that people may take on the status of an outsider: they are not truly embraced as part of the team, feel excluded from opportunities and subsequently may also take a step back -- separating themselves further from developing relationships with colleagues and being their most innovative selves. In business settings, these feelings typically translate into them being set apart from the power structures at the top.
A recent UK poll said that 77% of LGBT people said they felt uncomfortable about being their true self in public, and 74% said they felt the need to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. A separate study on gay men in the United States also confirmed that they 'managed' their sexuality at work to avoid 'potential negative consequences' from co-workers and changed their behavior in order to fit in.
Organizations wanting to create a culture of innovation must recognize that every employee has a fundamental right to bring their full, true and whole selves to work. Otherwise, a loss to overall productivity can be the result.
To combat years of systematic and institutional exclusion requires leaders who can demonstrate 'inclusive' leadership behaviors. Inclusive leaders are able to create innovative, dynamic workplaces where employees feel connected to and supported by one another, and where diverse groups are able to advance and thrive. In other words, when inclusive leadership and an inclusive workplace environment are both present, differences become valued assets rather than risks.
"As a gay man I appreciate that the challenge for managers/colleagues is often not offending someone," said Chuck Stephens, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, EMEA, at Google. "Even with the best of intentions these misstep moments can and do happen; and when they do, apologize, learn and move on. Do not let fear drive inaction. Wouldn't you rather apologize for something you did vs. something you didn't do?".
Leading intentionally and altruistically through empowerment, accountability, courage, and humility -- or the EACH behaviors -- help employees feel included. Inclusive leaders empower their employees by encouraging them to develop and excel. The more leaders practice these behaviors with their teams, the more employees feel included and have the opportunity to be innovative: allowing them to come up with new product ideas; propose new, more efficient ways of doing work; or identify previously untapped market opportunities.
"I always make sure that I'm consistently embracing all elements of diversity," Stephens continued. "That means that I don't just talk about LGBTQ issues with LGBTQ professionals or Women's Rights with just women. I want all my team to feel that their contributions are valued and they're in a safe, inclusive culture."
Employees who feel 'psychologically safe' are more willing to take risks regardless of rank or status. And Catalyst research has found that those risks can pay dividends from employees reporting being more innovative at work, leading business to do different things and do things differently to enhance their results.
This psychological safety, for LGBT individuals and everyone else, translates into employees feeling they can be their authentic selves, not singled out as an 'other' and without fear of risks to their career, social status, or workplace relationships. Specifically, for an LGBT individual, feeling psychologically safe may mean the difference between being comfortable to be 'out' or remaining 'in the closet'.
The bottom line from the business perspective: INCLUSION = PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY. It's a winning equation for individuals, communities, economies and societies, across the board.
Audrey Gallien, director of marketing for Catalyst, said: "It's about being an employer of choice. If companies can show they are truly inclusive and welcome LGBT employees they will be able to attract the best talent in the market place."
Our responsibility as a community should be to strive for creating greater inclusion each and every day especially when the pathway to do so is right at our fingertips.