How to make your workplace more LGBTQ friendly

The Ministry of Education in NZ has gone to great lengths to support its LGBTQI+ staff

How to make your workplace more LGBTQ friendly

Many large organisations in New Zealand have formal non-discrimination policies in place around sexual orientation. However, policies don’t always translate into behavioural change.

Despite the best efforts of many employers, stigma in the workplace for LGBTQI+ community is very real, according to Diversity Works New Zealand chief executive Maretha Smit.

“People often still find it necessary to cover or downplay aspects of their authentic selves, for instance, by hiding personal relationships or changing the way they dress,” Smit told HRD.

Smit urged organisations to “spark an appreciation across the wider workforce” for the unique gifts brought by diverse communities, as this will result in overall shifts in attitude.

“Make sure that you have the basic policies regarding discrimination, bullying and harassment in place that will provide the structural framework to ensure your LGBTQI+ people will feel safe,” she said.

“This involves providing networks and buddies for LGBTQI+ people who need support in navigating the workplace environment.”

One organisation which is succeeding in this respect is the Ministry of Education, after coming to the realisation that it could do a lot more to support its LGBTI+ staff.

Consequently, the Education Rainbow Network was formed, providing a safe and inclusive staff-driven network to celebrate and support LGBTI+ employees.

Led by a committee, the network, aligns with the Ministry’s wider Diversity and Inclusion framework.

The Ministry of Education Diversity and Inclusion Lead Evelyn Lawrence, said the Education Rainbow Network has also been instrumental in assisting HR with reviewing HR-related policies and processes, to ensure they are inclusive of all genders and sexual orientations.

In the submission to the 2020 Diversity Awards NZ, Lawrence said the network provides a voice for LGBTQI+ staff, advises on equality and diversity issues and works with leaders to meet specific needs of the LGBTQI+ employees. .

“It also connects the Ministry with LGBTQI+ organisations and the broader LGBTQI+ community, and advises on equality and diversity issues.”

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Indeed, the initiative enables all temporary and permanent Ministry staff to support each other and share information, with the goal of enabling everybody to reach their full potential.

The network also widened its reach to the communities it works with and organised two sessions with the Minister of Education’s Youth Advisory Group to lead the group’s inaugural discussions for LGBTQI+  youth across New Zealand.

Other achievements have included participation in the Cross-Agency Rainbow Network, and the launch of a website for the network on the Ministry intranet, as well as a Yammer page.

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“Our employee network groups have played a crucial role in helping to build a more inclusive culture and helping to drive diversity and inclusion initiatives at the Ministry of Education,” said Lawrence.

“Our Education Rainbow Network, in particular, is one of our strongest, dedicated and impactful employee network groups. Although they only formed early last year, they have raised the profile of our LGBTIQ+ employees and have helped to build a safe and more inclusive workplace for them.”

In fact, the program has been so successful that the Ministry of Education were a finalist in the 2020 Diversity Awards NZ.

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