A lot of companies talk a big game when it comes to diversity in the workplace but do they really understand the meaning of ‘diversity’? Off the bat when I hear the word diversity I think of difference. It could refer to difference in religion, difference in political views and of course difference in sexual preference just to name a few. “Preference”- that word doesn’t sit too well with me but we’ll touch on that another time. My issue is with LGBT inclusivity in the workplace.
Coming from a country in which diversity wasn’t an option, I really appreciate the effort that employers put into making the work environment more welcoming and comfortable for everyone but I think there’s still some more that can be done. I’m not saying that some or most companies don’t do a great job of being inclusive and supporting their LGBT employees. I’m just speaking from my point of view and from what I’ve experienced.
In my opinion being inclusive is more than having some literature in your company’s code of conduct that says that it’s against the rules to treat someone differently based on their sexuality. It’s more than showing up at the pride parade or having an LGBT employee network. Don’t get me wrong, those things are great but I think that the focus should be kept year round. Practice what you preach in your code of conduct. Show support for the LGBT community and issues that affect us year round and not only at pride. Some companies do a great job of that and sponsor events like the Aids Walk for Life and support LGBT youth achievers etc.
But my experience in the Canadian work place so far has made me wonder whether all the emphasis that’s placed on treating everyone fairly in the company’s code of conduct is just a farce. Within the first month of joining the company, I began to notice subtle yet disturbing trends. Trends like a string of jokes with the catch line ‘that’s so gay’. WTF? I’m sorry but I don’t find that amusing. Was he/she consciously trying to pin the tail on the gay? I don’t know. But would it be taken the same way if someone were to make jokes with the catch line ‘that’s so Asian’? Of course not. That would be seen a racist joke. So why then is it OK to use the word gay to invoke laughter? There’s nothing funny about being gay and so those comments should be considered homophobic. Strike one against the ‘Code of Conduct’
Then there’s the assumption that everyone’s straight. Does it really matter? I don’t think so. But by making these assumptions and creating this hetero view of everything makes it difficult for someone like me, a shy guy, to say “I’m gay.. what’s for lunch”?
Actually, I think that people should just mind their own business and focus on what we’re being paid to do. Which is work but I know that office gossip is inevitable. Strike two.
Most recently alarming is the exclusion of anything to do with LGBT in a much advertised ‘Diversity Month’. I first stumbled on the calendar for this month long event about a month ago and immediately looked for Pride week to see what events were taking place. But there were none. So I thought maybe they haven’t added it in yet. We do have a Pride Network so I shot them an email to ask what’s happening for pride. They responded and gave a couple event but they were all off site stuff like taking part in the parade, which is still huge. But I would have liked to see those events at least listed on that calendar. The more exposure we get, the better we will be received in the long run. By excluding us, it makes all the jokes/comments OK. Strike three.
I’m grateful that I was able to come to Canada and feel the freedom needed to live my life as a gay man without fear of persecution but my experience in my workplace so far tells me that even in Canada, there’s still a lot more work to do to make the LGBT community feel included.
Here’s what one Canadian corporation tried . . .