Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
President and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management
The pressures of the last year have profoundly impacted the workplace and the workforce. There have not only been major shifts in how we work, but a greater focus on ensuring workers feel valued, supported, and respected — including individuals in the LGBTQ+ community.
At the center of these changes are HR professionals who are working around the clock to support the workforce, from changes in benefits and policies, to providing safe spaces to discuss challenges and stressors employees may be facing.
In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that employment discrimination on the basis of an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal. This provided much-needed finality on the court’s interpretation of protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in virtually every employment circumstance on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, or national origin.
The court’s decision also gave HR professionals guidance and a greater opportunity to create a world of work that works for all. While progress has been made, we must be clear: discrimination and bias have no place at work. This extends to employees of the LGBTQ+ community.
As we strive to improve our workplaces, employers need to think and lead with inclusion and equity. Hire for it, ensure policies support it, and reflect it throughout the organization. HR knows how to do this.
So how do we build healthy workplaces that support all employees? Here are three key strategies.
Before reacting, take a step back and listen to colleagues with an open heart and mind. It can be easy to compare and conflate your own experiences with those of others, but we must learn to truly listen and understand without projecting ourselves onto others.
Lead with empathy
The past year has impacted our workforce in little and big ways. And for a lot of reasons we can point to, be it isolation, technology, or a changing workplace, it’s easy to lose sight of empathy and respect for one another. Simply put, we have an empathy deficit, and it shows up every day at work. Empathy is critical, as it enables people to work cooperatively with others who have different experiences, preferences, styles, and opinions. CEOs and people managers have an obligation to demonstrate empathy in their leadership. But it’s HR’s job to put it into practice in the workplace.
Culture is the glue that keeps workplaces together, but sometimes the workplace needs work. According to SHRM research, more than a third of American workers are facing difficulties with company culture this year during COVID. Weak, and especially toxic, cultures can derail any organization, no matter how big or prestigious. Strong, positive cultures, however, ensure employees act in the best interest of their organization and feel fulfilled by doing so.
Positive change requires us to learn from one another as we embrace accountability and act authentically. Together, with a commitment to equality and inclusion, we can change our workplaces.