Pride Month has been and gone and has highlighted the importance of embracing LGBTQ+ inclusivity and considering the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace.
According to Mental Health UK, LGBTQ+ people are 1.5 times more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorder compared to the rest of the population. The higher risk is reflective of continued challenges in broader social inclusion. It’s vital that businesses have the correct support systems in place to ensure supportive experiences and help is available for everyone’s circumstances, inclusive of those in the LGBTQ+ community. However, The Chartered Management Institute found only half (49%) of those surveyed reported senior leaders championing LGBTQ+ inclusivity in their organisation.
Though the LGBTQ+ community is intersectional and diverse, unfortunately, they can all share a unifying experience of feeling othered or discriminated against. This being said, mental health issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community can be related to identity or “coming out” or as well as the same reasons as cisgender, heterosexual people –as well as anything else, such as anxiety, depression, grief and life changes.
Unfortunately, there are still barriers in place when it comes to LGBTQ+ people accessing fully inclusive mental health care, as professionals in mental health may not have training or experience working with LGBTQ+ communities. However, there are steps that should be taken to ensure that workplace mental health support is inclusive to all.
Put simply, businesses should very intentionally promote inclusivity in their work experience. This should start with honest and open conversations from the top down. This is an effective way to cultivate an open environment and show that any conversations can be had without hesitation. Avoiding conversations in the workplace is the first way employees will be made to feel uncomfortable and will only shine a light on topics that are perceived to be taboo within the company- which is why so often, mental health cases go unnoticed at work.
Too often, members of the LGBTQ+ community feel they cannot have open conversations at home, or freely express themselves in some areas of their private life. Equally, some may feel they need to monitor the way they look or act to hide their presentation of gender or sexuality. This sentiment should not be mirrored at work due to the fear or expectation of mistreatment. However, mistreatment at work towards the LGBTQ+ is an experience that a reality for far too many, with LGBTQ+ workers earning about 90 cents for every dollar earned by a typical heterosexual US worker, highlighting why some people may feel forced to hide their gender or sexuality in the workplace.
This further highlights the need for a robust support system. Once a strong framework and policy is implemented and widely communicated within the company, business leaders should also be aware of their recruitment and workplace diversity. According to a McKinsey report on workplace diversity, companies that employ a diverse workforce have 35 percent higher financial returns than national averages. Not only does a diverse workforce positively impact the company’s culture, but it’s also great for talent retention and attraction, company morale and allows all individuals to feel supported at work.
LGBTQ+ people should never feel uncomfortable to be themselves. By having LGBTQ- supportive and inclusive policies in place will ensure no one experiences workplace discrimination and can be open about who they are – regardless of sexuality- at work and with their colleagues. This will reduce stress and anxiety, as it’s inevitable that experiencing feelings of discrimination, or hiding who you are, will cause extreme feelings of angst.
With this being said, members of the LGBTQ+ community may feel uncomfortable to join a workplace where there is no existing representation. By working to ensure representation of LGBTQ individuals, companies naturally open up the pool of talent to more potential hires, meaning finding the right talent for a company is easier than if they ignored or overlooked such a large demographic. Although most companies wouldn’t purposely ignore any one demographic, it’s important that equality and diversity is at the forefront of the recruitment process to ensure an inclusive workforce.
Business leaders should be confident in explaining and showcasing their equality, diversity and inclusion policies. They should be robust enough to prove to future candidates, competitors and customers that the workplace is a safe place where open, proactive conversations are encouraged, and everyone is equally supported and accepted.
By cultivating a positive, inclusive working environment, workplaces are opening themselves up to a more motivated and engaged workforce, a larger pool of talent in the recruiting process, and a huge opportunity to become a robust, diverse and happy team. Barriers to mental health support should not exist for anyone and Pride Month isn’t the only time we should be having this conversation.
Steps need to be taken to break down barriers and ensure workplaces, and the support they provide, are available and accepting of everyone.
Paula Allen is the Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Wellbeing at TELUS Health. Paula manages the research agenda, which includes primary research, exploratory data science, research collaborations and meta-analyses. Paula has expert knowledge and expertise in current issues and the future direction of health, wellbeing, productivity and related risk management.