Proven best practices to ensure inclusion in the workplace
By Colin Druhan
When some people hear that their employer supports an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for LGBT workers, they immediately think of a social committee that plans the annual Pride-season barbecue. While providing inclusive social spaces for LGBT employees and allies to connect can be some of the important work done by these groups, they also have the power to transform workplace culture and build better environments for people of all gender expressions, gender identities and sexual orientations. Pride at Work Canada works with more than 80 employers, most of which support LGBT ERGs. Over the years we’ve picked up the following best practices:
Having a plan helps
The most successful ERGs have a guiding document, such as terms of reference, which clearly defines the purpose of the group, its leadership structure and how its success is measured. This helps its members stay on track and helps all employees understand what the ERG does in case they want to get involved. Nobody should be confused about why your ERG exists or what its goals are.
Employers need to be invested
For any ERG to succeed, it needs an employer that will support it both financially and in principle. Having access to a budget as well as someone from the organization’s senior leadership is crucial. Money can help get projects off the ground, and clear guidance from the top keeps the ERG’s work in line with the company’s broader corporate values.
Our community is broadly diverse. That’s why it’s important to have voices from a variety of people at the planning table. When people bring various lived experiences based on their unique gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other part of their identity, it helps the ERG to address as many different needs as possible. It also helps to work with as many other ERGs and outside community groups as possible, to make sure that any barriers keeping some employees from getting involved are addressed quickly.
Change to suit your audience
ERGs need to consistently take feedback from employees, and may need to change to meet the needs of all employees. If some of an ERG’s membership need to leave right after work because of family obligations, it’s a good idea to find meeting times that suit everyone’s schedule so as many voices can be heard as possible. People who work off-site or from home should be able to connect remotely by phone or through online meeting solutions.
Face real problems, not assumed ones
LGBT people can be found in every industry and business area. Having a cross-section of departmental representation can help ERGs focus their goals based on real challenges being faced every day by employees. When creating a plan for an event, activity or program, start with a goal that faces a real challenge. “Have an event” is not a particularly helpful goal. However, “encourage dialogue to reduce the use of biphobic, homophobic and transphobic language in the workplace” is a great one. An event may be one tactic used in the strategy to achieve that goal.
Not everyone is going to join, and that’s okay
Joining a workplace group might not be appealing to everyone, and not everyone has the time to get involved. Just because someone doesn’t want to be a member of an LGBT ERG doesn’t mean they don’t support LGBT inclusion. It’s important to make sure everyone in the workplace knows that the ERG is welcoming of all employees, but don’t hold it against people if they decide to sit out meetings or events.
COLIN DRUHAN is the executive director of Pride at Work Canada, a not-for-profit organization that empowers employees to
foster workplace cultures that recognize LGBT employees. For more information, visit prideatwork.ca.