June is LGBTQ Pride month, and while many companies offer public displays of support, we still need to do a lot of work.
For example, a McKinsey study found that LGBTQ women are more than twice as likely as straight women to feel as though they cannot talk about their identify or their life outside work. And trans people are almost twice as likely to hear sexist jokes about people of their gender or to hear demeaning comments about people like themselves.
A Leadership IQ study called “Many Leaders Don’t Want to Hear About Discrimination in the Workplace” discovered that only 29% of employees say that “Management at my organization always listens to employee concerns about discrimination without blame or defensiveness.” And while 59% of executives and vice presidents stated they can always report concerns about discrimination in the workplace without causing problems for themselves, only 23% to 31% of frontline employees reported they can do so.
Even with public displays of support during Pride month, most companies still have a lot of work to do. But rather than feel hopeless about the scope of the challenge we face, I want to offer a concrete step that every leader at every company can take.
This month, have a one-on-one conversation with every employee. Start with the people whom you suspect might be feeling isolated, marginalized, or would otherwise benefit most from your support.
During that conversation, say the following: “One of my goals is to improve my own leadership, and to that end, I could use your help. Please be honest with me. What’s one thing that I could start doing or stop doing to better support you?”
There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s go step by step. First, we know from the study that fewer than a third of employees feel like their leader listens to discrimination concerns with empathy and understanding. Thus, one of the goals with this conversation is to establish that you’re going to respond with understanding, no matter what our people tell you. When you tell people that you could use their help to improve your leadership, you’re in effect saying, “I really want your help, so anything you tell me, even if it seems harsh, is actually beneficial, and I’m going to be understanding.”
Second, you’re asking your employees to tell you one thing that would better support them. Asking them a far more vague question like, “How can I support you?” can be overwhelming. They might fear giving too much feedback. They might struggle to distill and condense everything they want to tell you. Some won’t even know where to start. But asking for one thing makes this a far simpler question to answer.
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Third, you’re further making this question easier to answer by asking for one thing that you could start doing or stop doing. Maybe there’s something you’re unknowingly doing that’s stressing them. For example, the McKinsey study found that 76% of LGTBQ men and 82% of LGBTQ women have experienced microaggressions at work.
Or perhaps there’s something that you should be doing that you’re not currently. Should you do more to stop disrespectful comments or better enforce respectful behavior in team meetings?
The goal is to surface specific recommendations that employees feel will give them more support. Whether it’s a recommendation to start or stop doing something, it’s likely to be an actionable behavior well within your control.
Pride month is wonderful, and it’s heartening to see so many companies offering public displays of support. But there’s a risk that we see those shows of support and think, “OK, we’ve done enough” or “Pride is an issue for headquarters, but it doesn’t impact my team.”
Inclusion is something that every leader on every team can foster. Yes, it’s a large-scale macro issue, but it’s also a micro issue on which we can take targeted actions. The key for each of us as leaders is to deepen our relationships with our employees to reveal ways that we can be better allies. This isn’t an activity that should be limited to Pride month, but June does provide a terrific prompt and reminder that we need to start this activity now.