Building an 2SLGBTQ+ Inclusive Workplace

Registered social worker and Inkblot therapist Jess Marie shares tips for creating a supportive workplace for LGBTQ2S+ staff.

Supporting the 2SLGBTQ+ community at your workplace is about a lot more than building Pride parade floats or hanging rainbow flags in the office.

While June marks the beginning of Pride month in North America, one way to support the mental well-being of your 2SLGBTQ+ peers year-round is by creating a safe and affirming 2SLGBTQ+ workplace.

“People need to feel acceptance and belonging at work,” says Jess Marie, a Registered Social Worker and therapist in Victoria, BC who has worked for more than ten years supporting fellow 2SLGBTQ+ individuals.

Experiences of marginalization and discrimination negatively impact mental health. According to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, 2SLGBTQ+ individuals face higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidality and substance use – and double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. This risk increases for individuals with intersectional identities that may face other types of discrimination such as ableism, racism, classism or misogyny.

“It’s societal factors that create vulnerability,” says Marie. “There’s a lot of healing potential and creativity and abundance in this community. It’s the qualities of someone’s environment that can create challenges to live as a queer or trans person (in the workplace).”

Everyone deserves to feel safe and thrive at work. If you’re an employee or employer looking to create a more healthy, supportive workplace for your 2SLGBTQ+ peers, here are a few steps you can take.

Use Gender-Inclusive Language and Normalize Sharing Pronouns: Language is a powerful tool. Using gender-neutral language in meetings makes more people feel welcome, reduces the risk of misgendering someone and helps set an example for other employees to follow. In addition to using gender-neutral language, Marie suggests that pronouns should be given for all staff. “All staff should be using pronouns in all areas, including email signatures. If only staff who have diverse or nonbinary pronouns are using pronouns, it can feel very othering and outing.”

Respect Privacy: While some people might be very open about different facets of their identity at work, not everyone will want to discuss their personal lives or journey. Marie emphasizes that respecting the privacy of your 2SLGBTQ+ peers is important: “Don’t police bathroom or changeroom use and advocate for gender neutral facilities. If you come across information such as a person’s legal name or gender marker they don’t widely use, maintain confidentiality.” Instead of looking for others to disclose, Marie says employees and employers should assume they have 2SLGBTQ+ staff and work to build inclusive environments around that.

Ensure You Have Accessible Facilities: While many of us might be working from home these days, for in-person work environments Marie emphasizes that things like bathrooms and change rooms should be gender-neutral and accessible.

Additionally, it’s important to have dress codes that avoid gender stereotypes or restrict someone's gender expression. If a uniform is required for work, it should remain gender neutral. In office environments where professionalism in dress is required, codes should be written in gender neutral terms.

Examine Your Hiring Practices: Having a staff that reflects the diversity of human experience is both beneficial for company performance and creating a sense of belonging for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals. In addition to having diverse hiring practices and a statement that lets people know “We are looking for people reflective of you”, Marie emphasizes the importance of hiring diverse people into leadership in addition to entry-level roles. “If you look at your leadership team and they’re not reflective of the diversity you’re hiring for at entry level positions, work to change that.” If you’re hiring for a position and no one is applying from specific communities, they add, that might mean you don’t have connections to those communities. Marie asks: What causes could you get involved with or accessible education opportunities could you create to change that?

Educate Yourself: Try not to lean exclusively on your 2SLGBTQ+ peers for knowledge, a labour Marie notes can be emotionally burdensome, retraumatizing and should be paid. Do your part by learning more about what issues affect the 2SLGBTQ+ community and about topics like the importance of using gender-appropriate pronouns before asking questions. If 2SLGBTQ+ peers show leadership on these issues in the workplace, listen and stay open: “Everyone benefits when people are willing to admit gaps in their knowledge and learn from others.”

Have Inclusive Benefits Programs: Having comprehensive and inclusive health benefits programs is a great way to support the well-being of your 2SLGBTQ+ staff. In addition to increasing coverage for life-saving surgeries or drugs, Marie suggests ensuring you have sick leave, caretaker leave, and definitions of family and partner that “capture the breadth of what a family can be for someone.” Offering better access to mental health services is another important part of improving the well-being of all employees.

Start Conversations and Take Initiative: One great way to encourage allyship is by starting a conversation. If you hear or see something homophobic or transphobic in the workplace, use that as a teachable moment or an opportunity to nudge your workplace towards improving education around this topic. “Often marginalized staff do additional, frequently unpaid labour to improve circumstances for themselves and other marginalized people by auditing company materials, sitting on committees, organizing or facilitating training, and identifying needed changes,” says Marie. “Be accountable to taking on this labour too, while also emphasizing the importance of marginalized people being compensated well for this additional work.” Encourage your employer to hire diversity and inclusion experts with lived experience and be ready to receive leadership from 2SLGBTQ+ peers.

State Policies Clearly: In addition, for employers, it's essential to have very clear anti-discrimination policies in writing. Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies should have specific language that reflects sexual orientation, identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. This sets the tone and expectations for behaviours in the work culture.

Building inclusive workplaces can be a messy and sometimes awkward and non-linear process. Try to be kind and patient with each other throughout this ongoing learning, consult specialists when needed and remember your motivation: to create healthy workplaces and healthy lives for all.

Looking to speak with a professional counsellor? Inkblot therapists are here to support you. Reach out to our qualified therapists for an appointment today.


Jess Marie

Jess Marie is a Registered Social Worker and counsellor living in Victoria, BC. With over a decade of experience in trauma-specific educating, counselling, policy consulting, and research, they have tailored skills to the topics of: sex and gender wellness, trans health (WPATH trained), relationships and family dynamics, sexualized violence/gender-based violence, anxiety, depression, and stress management. In their private practice, they work primarly with queer and trans adults. You can learn more about how to work with them through their referral code: JessMSW