#Pride2020: Creating a LGBT-inclusive environment in retail

LGBT people exist in every community and in every society. We are both your customers and your staff. Over the past few decades, we’ve seen some incredible progress towards equality for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people. So much so, that some people might think: ‘job done’!

Unfortunately, we know all too well that’s not the case. Stonewall research revealed that more than a third of LGBT staff (35%) have hidden their identity for fear of discrimination, while one in five (18%) have experienced discrimination when applying for jobs because of who they are. The situation is even worse for more marginalised members of our community. Black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees are at a higher risk of abuse and are three-times more likely to have lose their job compared to white LGBT staff. Trans people also face significant challenges, with a third (33%) having been the target of negative comments and discrimination from co-workers.

These are not just statistics; these are the real-life experiences of many LGBT people at work. No one should ever feel unsafe at work or worried to be themselves. But this clearly isn’t the experience for some LGBT people, and it shows why LGBT inclusion is so important.

Retailers can be at the forefront of driving equality in society, creating spaces where customers, employees and the wider LGBT community can be accepted. This year, Sainsbury’s and Enterprise Rent-A-Car were the only consumer goods and retail businesses to claim a place in Stonewall’s Top 100 LGBT-inclusive employers, at 71 and 76, respectively. But there’s so many more retailers who could be making their mark, which shows there’s work to be done.

At such an intense time for retailers, there’s a huge business opportunity for retailers to set themselves apart by becoming more LGBT-inclusive. In order to succeed, organisations need their staff to feel confident to be themselves at work. Having an open and diverse working environment leads to higher levels of motivation, creativity, and productivity. What retailer wouldn’t want this for their staff? It’s good for employees, the business, and customers.

No matter where you’re starting from, whether you’re in the head office or the manager of a store in Newcastle, there’s always more you can do to be more LGBT-inclusive. While creating this environment isn’t ever a tick-box exercise, it is something that can start with everyday actions.

One easy way to improve the workplace for LGBT employees and consumers is to show visible support for community events. Whether it’s Pride, Trans Day of Visibility, LGBT History Month, or Bi Visibility Day, it can be incredibly powerful to see supermarkets coming out for LGBT events. Not only are days and months like these a chance for you to highlight LGBT role models in your business, but you also get to send out a clear message to the wider society that you value diversity and inclusion.

Retailers can also update HR systems to offer gender-neutral pronouns like Mx on titles and provide gender-neutral facilities. As part of basic training for staff, you can also outline zero tolerance policies on homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, as well as developing policies to help employees feel confident in identifying and reporting such incidents. Just think of how much this could help a trans customer who faces uncertainty and fear of discrimination each time they want to use a bathroom.

The best way to make change is to ask those directly affected. Listen to the needs of your LGBT employees and address the challenges they face. This means creating safe spaces for staff to come together, discuss issues and offer potential solutions. It’s in meetings like this you could hear from the mum who finally has a space to talk about the fact that she can’t find an engagement card for her son and future son-in-law in the store!

Leaders in the business should also be involved and engaged in conversation with groups like LGBT staff networks. One way to do this is to introduce reverse mentoring schemes, where junior LGBT staff can speak and mentor senior leaders. Not only does this help increase understanding of the issues happening, it also gives those LGBT staff an invaluable career development opportunity.

We spend most of our lives at work and plenty of time shopping in different stores, so if can get LGBT inclusion right here, it would make a world of difference to so many LGBT people. So let’s make this the year all retailers come out for LGBT equality and embed inclusion in their business year-round.