Diversity and Inclusion Expert: - Crucial for Everyone to Thrive and Perform at Their Best
In 2021, the latest results from the national survey on living conditions among lesbian women, gay men, bisexual women, bisexual men, and transgender individuals were published by Bufdir. The survey revealed, among other things, that both binary and non-binary transgender individuals had experienced more harassment in the workplace and educational institutions compared to cisgender individuals. This harassment came from employers, colleagues, and customers. Transgender individuals also reported observing more negativity towards queer individuals in the workplace, and a significant proportion had experienced negative comments specifically targeted at them as transgender individuals.
Forte Digital is and has always been a company where our employees are our most valuable resource. As an organization, we strive to create an environment that allows employees to bring their strengths to work and engages the entire workforce. We had a conversation with diversity and inclusion advisor Kristine Kotte about the steps that can be taken to create a more inclusive workplace.
Knowledge Enhancement and Awareness
"Having a clear diversity and inclusion agenda in the workplace is crucial for companies that want employees to thrive and perform at their best," says Kristine Kotte.
She works on guiding organizations to improve equality, diversity, and an inclusive culture. Kotte emphasizes that both companies and employees bear a significant responsibility in increasing awareness about the experiences of minority groups in the workplace and in everyday life, as well as creating awareness around unconscious discrimination. Kotte divides the work into two axes:
Company Level - Structural
- Ensure inclusive/gender-neutral language in all internal and external communications, such as job advertisements and policy documents.
- Ensure that all guidelines and company documentation encompass all groups.
- Raise awareness about parental leave and adoption for same-sex parents. Ensure that those handling reports are well-informed about the challenges faced by queer and other minority individuals, so as not to trivialize them.
- Address patterns of unconscious discrimination and enhance competence and awareness among employees, for example, in the context of hiring and promotion.
- Celebrate diversity in the company - demonstrate it if you work on it, for example, by having representation and variation in language and imagery used for recruitment.
Individual Level - Cultural
- Familiarize yourself with everyday jargon - what is the humor, and what is acceptable to joke about?
- Seek knowledge and become familiar with the challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community on a daily basis.
- Be conscious of how you speak and what you automatically expect in a lunch conversation about how the weekend was.
- Respect pronouns in everyday language. It is not sufficient to have a policy to respect they/them pronouns for non-binary individuals if it is not practiced or, at worst, opposed in daily interactions.
Mental Health and Belonging in the Workplace
The Bufdir survey also revealed that a higher proportion of gay men, bisexual men, and bisexual women in the sample had lower life satisfaction compared to the comparison groups. The same was true for transgender individuals in the sample. The results also showed that more LGBTQ+ individuals - especially bisexual men and women - and transgender individuals experienced higher levels of mental distress compared to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. In the workplace, Kotte highlights some typical challenges that can create a lack of belonging.
"Having to 'come out' every single day during lunch is a recurring burden that I hear queer individuals describe," explains Kotte. Correcting a colleague who assumes a male partner is female or looking surprised when a lesbian woman talks about her children are examples of these challenges. Eliminating such prejudiced attitudes is a responsibility that Kotte emphasizes every employer should be aware of.
Pinkwashing and the Role of Companies
There is much discussion about "pinkwashing" and whether changing logos on social media contributes to progress in diversity and inclusion work or is simply used as a communication tactic by companies that do not have an established commitment to the cause.
"We must remember that employees belonging to the minority groups represented during pride are no more homogenous than other groups, and there is a wide range of opinions regarding companies' involvement in the event," explains Kotte.
"However, my clear belief is that clear signals of acceptance and inclusion from the company, whether it's displaying flags or providing training within the organization, are appreciated. Personally, I believe that it is far more dangerous to do nothing. If last year's tragic shooting wasn't evidence enough, the Bufdir report shows that there are still parts of the population that hold negative attitudes towards queer individuals, and we have much work ahead," Kotte adds.
The term "pinkwashing" refers to the phenomenon where companies use support for LGBTQ+ rights as a marketing or PR strategy without genuinely addressing or promoting inclusivity within their organization.
The Technology Industry Must Play an Active Role in Promoting Diversity and Inclusion
"As a company, the most important place to start is by establishing a culture of psychological safety that welcomes all employees," explains Kotte.
She emphasizes that it encompasses everything from language usage to unconscious discrimination, as well as ensuring a sense of safety and trust in HR and leaders. Kotte further emphasizes that clear reporting and support systems are crucial, especially for vulnerable groups. She explains that the technology industry is also uniquely positioned to provide inclusive solutions for its customers, such as voice assistants that interpret men and women equally or apps that offer the same functionality for all consumers.
"I encourage all companies to raise the flag for love and compassion. Gain knowledge about the challenges that people in the LGBTQ+ community face in their everyday lives and in the workplace - and be mindful of your responsibility," Kotte concludes.