Steps to rainbow inclusiveness in your workplace

When leaders demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion it radiates an important message in the business about safety and workplace inclusion. Martin King offers advice for businesses on their journey to a more inclusive workplace. 

Leadership from the top: The tone of an organisation’s culture is often set from the top, either by the CEO, executive team or the board. 

When those in leadership roles demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion, it radiates an important message throughout the business of safety and workplace inclusion. A member of the executive team visibly acting as an ongoing sponsor of this work is essential to keep the conversation going at the top table.  

Employee engagement and involvement: Having rainbow employees actively involved in every step you take towards shaping inclusion in your workplace is vital.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, listen and be willing and ready to learn. This should help leadership and HR teams inform strategy, policy, practice, engagement initiatives and benchmarks. 

Diversity and inclusion committees, or Pride and Affinity networks ensure that employees are the eyes, ears and pulse of the organisation around what works and what doesn’t. I highly recommend that these groups are empowered and are given a budget to invest throughout the year.

Strategy and purpose: Being clear about ‘why’ a commitment to rainbow diversity is important for your organisation, your employees, and potentially stakeholders and customers should be no different from any other business objectives. It should link to your organisational strategy, values, and annual businesses plans. Simply put, without a clear focus, nothing will be achieved. 

Policy and practices: Ensuring your policies and practices deliver on your stated commitments involves putting in some effort. Are your organisational policies reflective of the current business environment and your cultural ethos? 

Policies need to be revised regularly to explicitly outline inclusivity of all employees, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation. This requires retrofitting away from being heteronormative (reflecting a heterosexual world view) that may alienate those with a differing view point.

Some topline examples include:

• Ensuring your parental leave policy covers same sex couples (is non-gender specific).

• Your medical insurance benefits cover people of all gender and sexual orientations and marital status.

• Having clarity around uniform policies, including gender neutral options. 

• It is highly recommended to have a transgender transition policy in place and available to employees should the need arise. 

Training and awareness: Ensuring that your entire workforce, and in particular those in leadership and management roles, understand your commitments and policies towards diversity and inclusion is key to delivering on your plan.

This should start with including a section in all your induction and orientation material, and importantly in training for managers who are recruiting new employees and leading teams.  

In my experience, most people lack very basic levels of knowledge about inclusion and what this means for them, especially when it comes to rainbow employees. Educate around the basics to form a solid foundation. Start with the appropriate language to use, and clarify what gender and sexuality means. 

External engagement: Being public about your commitments towards being inclusive helps in many ways. 

Firstly, it creates a sense of pride for your rainbow employees. It also sets a tone for prospective employees, customers and stakeholders, but equally re-enforces the type of organisation you are. 

What and how you do this will all depend on your size and budget, but I encourage businesses to do more than a token rainbow cupcake sale, or only one activity per year. 

A commitment to rainbow diversity should be integrated into all activities where possible. 

Supporting your ‘activity’ with a formal accreditation such as The Rainbow Tick, commitment to The Pride Pledge or entering in the New Zealand Rainbow Excellence Awards are a number of ways that New Zealand organisations are sending a clear signal that they mean business. 

Collaboration with others: Talking to, and sharing with, other businesses on the same journey can be extremely beneficial. Many businesses are happy to share experiences, policy and training material, and general advice. 

Remember you are not on your own. Reach out to existing networks and get involved in the conversation helping to make all New Zealand workplaces a more inclusive environment for rainbow employees. 

Measurement and reporting: Understanding your rainbow workforce is a critical step to shaping your plans and priorities. Identify where you would like to be and set targets for improvement around LGBTTQI+ wellbeing. 

Some easy steps to understand your rainbow employees include; adding a diversity and inclusion section into your employee engagement survey or diversity survey, and including relevant questions in your exit interviews.  

Sharing this information is vital to holding organisations accountable for action. 

This should be no different from equal pay targets, gender targets for females in leadership roles, or Maori and Pasifika representation in your workforce. 

A growing number of New Zealand businesses are putting up their hands to make a difference every day for members of rainbow communities. Their contributions will be celebrated at the 2020 New Zealand Rainbow Excellence Awards and Development Forum being held on May 1 at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. 


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