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Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Policies and Initiatives

Diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives are not just for large companies. They are for all employers who want to create a safe and supportive workplace for all employees. In a survey published by the Human Rights Commission in 2018, 46% of LGBTQ workers reported not being out at work, and 28% of LGBTQ workers reported not being out at all, nor open to anyone in their lives. Diversity and inclusion policies, given these statistics, are an important way to demonstrate that your business openly supports LGBTQ+ employees and their safety, and values their skills and perspectives as important to the business’s success.

Small businesses should not be afraid to set large goals when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Even businesses with only a few employees can start by creating the basic D&I policies provided below, and from there, set long-term initiatives and smaller goals that can be accomplished in the near term.

Where to start with diversity and inclusion?

Employers frequently look within when it comes to crafting diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives. Creating a D&I leadership team and/or employee resource groups can be great ways to start the conversation about what your employees want when it comes to making the workplace more inclusive and welcoming. D&I leadership teams connect executives and managers with the staff, and they help with updating policies and training, monitoring progress, and developing initiatives. On the other hand, resource groups can provide a safe space for individual employees to seek support and share ideas.

Team or group membership should be optional, even if there are employees who you think should be on or leading the team, and everyone should feel welcome to provide input. Also, be mindful not to single out workers for membership just because they are part of the LGBTQ+ community, are a person of color, or have a disability.

In addition to self-selected groups, you may wish to create a new role within your organization for a designated D&I leader who can spearhead initiatives, handle any day-to-day issues that may arise, monitor the company's progress through regular employee surveys and engagement, and provide resources to employees upon request.

What do diversity and inclusion policies look like?

Diversity and inclusion policies don’t need to be on special paper or even exist separately from an Employee Handbook. Often, employers will discover that they already have some of the policies needed and only need to make a few additions. If your Employee Handbook or manual hasn’t been updated recently, adding D&I policies is a great reason to do so.

Thoughtful and inclusive employment policies may include:

  • Inclusive workplace statement - A short paragraph explaining that the company strives to be inclusive and what that means for its employees.
  • Equal opportunity statement - A paragraph explaining that diversity is highly valued in hiring, promotions, and in selecting vendors.
  • Anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation statements - Separate statements that clearly communicate that discrimination, harassment, and retaliation will not be tolerated.
  • Violation reporting procedures - Statements and other forms of communication that clearly describe how employees can report discrimination, harassment, and retaliation they experience or witness.
  • Healthcare equality - A benefits package that includes same-sex partners, domestic partners, and children of domestic partners. An inclusive benefits package also would include health services related to transgender care.

How do diversity and inclusion policies impact external communications?

Employees are not the only beneficiaries of a diverse and inclusive workplace. D&I policies can also guide your communications and marketing efforts by helping your company reflect the diversity of your organization, community, and customers more effectively.

You can improve your messaging and more clearly reflect your business’s values by:

  • Updating style or brand guidelines to add more inclusive language.
  • Keeping diversity in mind when creating guidelines for sourcing images and other visual content.
  • Reaching out to customers and clients from diverse backgrounds to understand their needs and the sources they look to for information.

The idea is to include and welcome often underrepresented voices in the conversation about your business and what it has to offer.

Are there effective ways to recruit, retain, and promote LGBTQ+ employees?

When posting a job ad, be sure to review the listing to make sure the language is inclusive, and consider adding a statement about the company's commitment to diversity and equal employment. Some job listings even include a line stating that LGBTQ+ people are encouraged to apply. For more targeted recruiting of LGBTQ+ employees, you may want to post that job ad with an LGBTQ+ organization in your community or at a local university.

For retaining and promoting LGBTQ+ workers, having good diversity and inclusion policies can go a long way. Good policies will foster an environment where all employees feel safe and can do their best, which can translate to better merit-based promotions. This is especially true if there are objective employee review processes that are tailored to avoid the personal biases of the reviewers.

For businesses with a larger workforce or those that have mentorship opportunities within the organization, ensuring those opportunities are available to LGBTQ+ workers is critical for retention and promotions (as well as to avoid potential legal liability for discrimination).

Additionally, because the world and people change, it’s imperative to be agile and willing to adapt to the times. This means updating the language used for official company documents and policies as the language that society uses continues to evolve.

How can I find LGBTQ+ businesses and vendors to work with?

Businesses and vendors will often self-identify as LGBTQ+-owned. Some businesses may even be officially certified as LGBTQ+-owned through the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. These self-identifications and certifications make finding and adding LGBTQ+-owned businesses to your list of approved vendors as simple as conducting an online search.

Local LGBTQ+ organizations may also maintain a list of LGBTQ+-owned businesses in the area.

Who should receive diversity and inclusion training?

Diversity and inclusion training should be given annually to every employee at every level. Additional training on enforcing policies fairly and resolving conflicts related to diversity and inclusion is also recommended for managers, supervisors, and executives.

Employees who may be having difficulty following D&I policies, or who have violated a policy, discriminated against or harassed someone in the workplace, should be required to undergo more training.

Does promoting inclusivity mean companies shouldn’t celebrate differences?

Inclusivity and celebration go hand in hand. The key is to ensure that no one feels excluded or disrespected. Surveying employees about company celebrations can help you get new ideas and avoid potential issues. Also, if you’ve put together a D&I leadership team or resource group, seeking their input or assistance with surveying and planning can also help to ensure that company parties are as inclusive as possible.

How can I handle negativity or resistance to diversity and inclusion policies?

When a business encounters negative reactions or resistance to newly imposed D&I policies, internally or externally, it can be helpful to hold steady and rely on the reasoning that led to implementing those policies. Ultimately, your goal is to create a safe and welcoming workplace for everyone.

Anti-Discrimination Workplace Policies

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans employment discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This legislation, along with a web of state laws and laws created by court cases, provides meaningful protection for scores of workers across the United States, including LGBTQ+ workers.

Experienced employers and HR professionals know that discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are illegal, but beyond the legal issues, they are also harmful to your business. Harmful behavior hurts employee morale and productivity. Additional data from the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 survey shows that 25% of LGBTQ+ employees are distracted by unwelcoming workplace environments, with over 30% reporting feeling depressed or unhappy at work due to the lack of acceptance. Protecting employees from discrimination and harassment while at work makes good business sense and having the right policies in place can not only protect employees and customers, but also protect your business from lawsuits and worse.

What can I do to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive in my workplace Anti-Discrimination Policy?

Businesses looking to improve as allies to the LGBTQ+ community can start by adding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected classes you may already have in your Anti-Discrimination Policy. Additional steps to take include crafting policies that respect employees' pronouns, as well as clear bathroom policies that will not discriminate against transgender and non-binary individuals.

How can I improve compliance with my workplace Anti-Discrimination Policy?

After creating inclusive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, train managers and employees on those policies, and then enforce those policies when violated. This sends a strong message that certain conduct is not tolerated and that your policies will be strictly enforced. Your documented policy should also include instructions on how to report violations, and who to report them to, providing at least one alternative method in case the person receiving the report is actually the subject of it. You might consider posting the policy in the breakroom or alongside the other mandated documents that you may be required to post in and around your workplace.

Reviewing current policies to see where they can be improved to be more inclusive is never a bad idea, especially if you are looking for ways to support a diverse group of employees.

Healthcare Equality

Ensuring that employer-provided healthcare and benefits are as inclusive as possible can go a long way towards supporting and demonstrating value to your LGBTQ+ employees. Since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the law has been clear: If an employer provides benefits to spouses, then those benefits must also be provided to same-sex spouses.

What else can I do to improve employer-provided health benefits for LGBTQ+ employees?

Employers may consider reviewing their benefits provider’s offerings to ensure that healthcare benefits specifically allow for same-sex and domestic partner coverage. Additionally, when selecting health benefits packages, confirm whether they cover services related to transgender care. Benefits programs can impose caps and exclusions related to these services, despite these typically not increasing the cost to employers significantly.

If family planning benefits are part of your benefits package, make sure that those also provide value to employees who may be forming a family through adoption or surrogacy. Employers may also choose to provide benefits for fertility treatments, surrogacy, and adoption assistance in the form of limited reimbursement for related expenses.

Inclusive Parental Leave Policies

Parental leave policies are a little bit different from pregnancy leave and family planning benefits. Like pregnancy leave, parental leave is often a legal requirement. The length of time off and whether it is paid can vary, so long as it meets state and federal minimum requirements.

How can I make our parental leave policies more inclusive for LGBTQ+ employees?

Employers should consider reviewing their policies on parental leave to ensure that parents of any gender receive the same parental leave to bond with a new addition to the family. With that in mind, you may want to include adoption, foster children, and legal guardianship in your parental leave policies. Additionally, for adoptions and guardianships, consider allowing employees time off for completing the legal requirements after a placement, which sometimes happens many months after a child joins a family.

Pronouns and Proactive Name Change Policies and Assistance

In addition to using gender-neutral (also called "gender-inclusive") language in your everyday interactions, using and respecting everyone's pronouns is another step towards establishing an inclusive workplace.

How should our workplace handle pronouns and name changes, both official and unofficial?

In addition to holding inclusivity training that highlights the importance of respecting pronouns, allowing employees to easily change their names and communicate their pronouns can help to create a safe space for new and existing team members to feel supported when expressing their gender identities. Fostering a culture where displaying one's pronouns is normalized, such as including pronouns in email signatures, or enabling self-identification during the onboarding process, signals to employees that using everyone's pronouns is important.

Generally, for taxes, benefits, and payroll purposes, an employer will need to continue using an employee’s legal name until it is officially changed. But after a legal name change, employers should stop using the old name even for official documents.

What can be done if employees do not respect pronouns and name changes?

Repeated or intentional use of a former name or the incorrect pronoun should be treated the same way a harassment or discrimination complaint would be treated. This means that the same policy for reporting harassment or discrimination should be followed.

After an incident, requesting the offending employee complete additional training and sign a document acknowledging that repeated incidents, or retaliation, will result in discipline or termination, might help to stop future harassment. If it doesn’t, you might consider further discipline or termination. Harassing conduct that is not stopped harms the employee being targeted and can also harm your business and expose it to liability.

Policies Impacting Appearance

Businesses often need to have policies that dictate what employees can and cannot wear, or how they should appear when working. While this may be more important in client or customer-facing industries, it can also relate to industrial and mechanical safety.

How can businesses rethink dress codes and appearance policies to consider the needs of LGBTQ+ employees?

Businesses should think about the purpose of any policy that impacts an employee’s appearance, particularly when there’s no customer interaction or safety concern. Regardless of gender, employers who aim to be inclusive typically avoid asking workers to dress "more feminine" or "more masculine."

If you have policies that require employees to wear uniforms, adhere to a dress code, or restrict or require certain grooming or make-up, ensure that these are written from a gender-neutral perspective that respects cultural norms and differences. If a dress code or uniform must include gendered differences, the most inclusive approach would be to allow employees to select the uniform or code that is in conformance with their gender identity or expression.

How to Get Started

Employers who take the time to review or implement diversity and inclusion policies are showing their workers, customers, competitors, and industries that they believe creating a safe and welcoming workplace for all voices is the right thing to do. There’s no perfect time to start, but if Pride month has got you motivated, start today! Just remember that the work doesn’t end after you have created the policies. It is important to gather and track feedback from your employees on how and if the policies are working. If more changes are needed, you should follow through and be willing to adapt.

Employers who do follow through on their D&I initiatives can expect a return on their efforts in the form of happier workers who are more loyal and productive, and a wider customer base that is more willing to support a business that understands its needs and speaks to its values.

Additional resources

For more information about how to be an LGBTQ+ ally or resources for LGBTQ+ business owners, check out the following:

Rocket Lawyer is here for you

As an employer, your people are your number one asset. Rocket Lawyer provides the digital tools you need to manage your team, enforce your policies, and maintain legal compliance. Here are a few ways that Rocket Lawyer can help:

  • Legal documents - Rocket Lawyer offers hundreds of business contracts and documents that are easily customized for your specific needs. Make and sign documents to help you operate your business, hire or terminate workers, work with service providers, or otherwise protect your business.
  • Legal advice - If you have legal questions about your employment policies and practices, a Rocket Lawyer On Call attorney can help. Ask a lawyer any question or have your employment documents reviewed for legal compliance.
  • Employee legal benefits - Offer your employees a unique benefit they can truly use. With Rocket Lawyer Group Legal Services, your employees can access legal documents and get attorney advice to help them plan their estates, prepare for marriage or divorce, buy property, manage childcare, and more.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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