"Do not ask intrusive personal questions": How HR can support LGBTIQ employees

by John Hilton06 Mar 2017
In 2016, the Australian Workplace Equality Index found 45% of LGBTI Australians hid their sexuality or gender identity at work because of fear it may damage their career.

Marcela Slepica, clinical services director at AccessEAP, said workplace managers play a crucial role in breaking down stigma and preventing discrimination in the workplace by modelling acceptance and tolerance for individuals.

“Do not ask intrusive personal questions which have no bearing on the person’s role with the workplace and let them choose how much they want to share with you and their co-workers,” said Slepica.

In particular, the transition for a transgender person can be a very challenging and vulnerable time and transgender employees often look to HR to help them navigate the changes.

The degree of success of a transition is strongly influenced by a person’s ability to maintain a stable job during the process, said Slepica.

Employers that are unprepared to handle a gender transition are likely to face not only employee relations issues, but also discrimination claims.

Slepica offers some tips for employers on how to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace:

•    Organisations need to learn the terminology and educate themselves of how to support a person going through gender transition.
•    Having a policy in place is not always enough. This is a very personal issue and policies will not always be relevant given the complexity, this is about the individual and how the business can support the individual. Managers should talk to the person going through the transition – understand their challenges, what they need and how they would like to communicate what they are going through to their colleagues.
•    Foster open communication – an understanding on both sides and having respect for each other are important.
•    The person going through the transition also needs to understand that colleagues will make mistakes and that they may inadvertently say the wrong thing. For example, using ‘he’ rather than ‘she’, particularly if colleagues have known the person for some time. Everyone needs time to process the change.
•    Although it can be challenging and confronting for some, what we think and feel cannot impact on our behaviour. Managers and colleagues need to be respectful and inclusive towards the person going through the transition. Diversity and inclusion are important.
•    Each individual case is different and managers should respond on a case by case basis. Training and individual coaching can assist managers to support a person going through gender transition.

Related stories:

Corporate surge underway to protect LGBT employees

Wal-Mart accused of anti-gay discrimination

Major bank announces 50/50 gender target

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