How to ensure your workplace culture respects LGBTI staff

Grevis Beard
October 5, 2016


“To plebiscite or not to plebiscite”, that is the question


While the nation debates the merits (or lack thereof) of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, the important question for all workplaces should always be ‘how confident are you that your workplace culture is one which demonstrates respect and courtesy for all?’

Even at this stage, various reports are being raised of the extent to which comments on social media are not only disrespectful of LGBTI Australians but are, in particular, currently causing distress and exacerbating mental wellbeing and anxiety issues for younger gay men and lesbians aged 18 to 24.

Patrick McGorry, the 2010 Australian of the Year and expert on adolescent mental health, and leading mental health organisations this week noted that this younger cohort is 100 percent more likely to present with anxiety than their heterosexual peers.

Whilst there may be particular laws in place in a number of States across Australia which cover off on homosexual or transgender vilification, workplaces should be particularly proactive, regardless of whether the plebiscite goes ahead or not, to ensure that employees in the workplace continue to be provided with a healthy and safe place to work.

A host of laws, including Equal Opportunity laws, the Fair Work Act, Workplace Health and Safety laws and contractual obligations, as well as workplace values and mission statements and employment policies, all aim to ensure safety and respect are everyone’s lived experience at work.

Whilst the majority of LGBTI employees do not suffer discrimination at work as part of their lived experience, the recent statistics in the publication of the 2016 Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) Employee Survey provide a host of relevant statistics to consider when reflecting on what employers can further do to reduce the apparent incidence of sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

The AWEI survey is the only one of its kind, and the largest annual survey conducted in Australia on the impact of LGBTI inclusion initiatives within Australian workplaces.

Some key statistics were:

  • LGBTI employees were three times more likely to have either witnessed or been made aware of negative commentary or jokes.
  • There was a much higher rate (4.2%) of LGBTI employees being aware of more serious bullying in the workplace, against only 0.6% of non-LGBTI employees.
  • LGBTI respondents were less likely to believe that their organisation communicates inclusion than non-LGBTI respondents (57.6% vs 66.1%), and a majority (64.9%) were far more likely to believe that their organisation should do more communication and/or training in this area, compared to a minority (43%) of non-LGBTI respondents.
  • In terms of sectors, employees in both the private and NFP sectors had a stronger belief that their organisations communicate LGBTI inclusion, and that they knew where to go to get more information on inclusive messages and information. In comparison, these sentiments were not shared as strongly by those working in the higher education sector and much less so in the public sector, where less than half of all respondents believed their organisation communicates inclusion.

Of course, in considering the results, all those who participated in the survey are working for organisations that are currently implementing / or have already implemented LGBTI inclusion initiatives. This means that the overall experiences of LGBTI employees across all Australian workplaces may well be worse than those organisations in the survey which all have a commitment to inclusive practice.


Best-practice to support LGBTI staff at work


Best practice in this area is always proactive, inclusive and positive. Here are a few pointers:
1.Reflect on what you are doing to ensure that all staff, including your LGBTI staff are welcomed, are respected and valued, at induction and during their entire employment.
2. Check to ensure all workplace communication, decisions and policies are inclusive of all. If not, what do you need to fix – now.
3. Ensure that leaders and managers “walk the talk” and exhibit zero tolerance for attitudes or comments that are homophobic or denigrate any staff for any reason.
4. When did you last undertake refresher training so that everyone understands what your policies, values and mission statement encompass? Consider rolling out that training now, and reinforce that your workplace is a places of safety and respect for all.
5. Not sure on what may be going on in your workplace culture, or whether it is supportive of everyone to be comfortable to their colleagues regarding their sexual orientation? Conduct a workplace review so that you can get a better sense of where you may need to intervene to further improve respect and attitudes in the workplace.


These are simple steps that employers can take to help ensure LGBTI employees know that they are valued and supported at work, regardless of what happens in the broader community.


About Grevis Beard


Grevis Beard


Grevis Beard is the co-founder and director of Worklogic. From his career as a barrister and solicitor and his specialisation in discrimination law, Grevis has significant knowledge of the dynamics of workplace disputes and their resolution. Grevis works with a range of clients to improve workplace communication, manage workplace risks, handle complaints and improve employee behaviour.

If you would like help with strategies to ensure your workplace supports its LGBTI employees, please contact Grevis via email or give him a call on (03) 9981 6500.

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