2SLGBTQIA+ is an acronym for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and the + to be inclusive of many more sexual and gender identities outside heteronormativity and the gender binary.

Although Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual (2SLGBTQIA+) people are as diverse as the general Canadian population, they still face discrimination in hiring practices. Moreover, hiring biases have been going on despite the act that sexual orientation has been in the Charter of Rights since 1977. 

This isn't to say that all biases are homophobia. There are biases that are happening within hiring practices that are subconscious. The vast majority of us are not intentionally trying to discriminate against the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. Mistakes are often due to a lack of knowledge and understanding. This is why educating yourself and putting in the effort is the key to being respectful. Here are some common barriers for 2SLGBTQIA+ people and how your company can help to create a more safe and inclusive workplace.

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avoid making heteronormative and cisnormative assumptions

You might be wondering, what is heteronormativity? Well, heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the default expression of sexuality in our society. However, this belief system can be harmful to 2SLGBTQIA+ minorities because it creates a hierarchy among sexual practices that can reinforce heterosexism and homophobia. Cisnormativity is the assumption everyone is cisgender and that there are no transgender people around us.

“The fact that 53% of people hide their identity in their workplace. I think it says a lot about where we are as a society for 2SLGBTQIA+ people in general.” - Vincent Mousseau, social worker, educator, and community organizer.

One of the most common barriers for 2SLGBTQIA+ people in the workforce is that there is this heteronormative assumption that everyone is heterosexual (or has an opposite-sex partner) and that everyone is either female or male. These assumptions can be harmful to the 2SLGBTQIA+ people in the workforce because it’s taking their existence out of what is considered ‘normal.’ Heteronormative and cisnormative assumptions can be damaging, especially to non-binary and transgender people, but there are specific ways that you can avoid putting these assumptions onto people. For example, while at work if you’re speaking about husbands or wives, try saying partners or spouses instead, especially if you’re not familiar with everyone’s partner. This way, you’re leaving out the assumption that everyone you’re talking to is heterosexual.

stop using gendered language

There can be a lot of gendered language used in the workplace, even starting at the beginning of the job cycle: in a job interview. When interviewing for a job, the interviewer may refer to the interviewee as Mr/Sir or Ms/Madam/Miss based on whether they perceive them to be a man or a woman. Inclusive language, on the other hand, doesn’t assume a gender. In this case, simply using the candidate’s name would work. HR forms and written content forms also often have this issue. Consider adding additional gender options other than man and woman, such as non-binary, as well as more inclusive titles and pronouns, or a fill-in-the-blank option for those who wish to identify in another way.

When automatically referring to someone as Mr/Ms, you’re not acknowledging the reality of transgender and non-binary people. Instead, you are gendering them based upon your own perspective, which often leads to misgendering. If someone has transitioned during their time at your company, you should refrain from using their deadname. A deadname is someone’s birth name when they have changed their name as part of their gender transition. 

To create an inclusive environment, you can offer your employees the opportunity to state their gender pronouns and naming preferences. However, this should not be mandatory, as some people may not feel safe or comfortable or safe answering. Though asking employees or candidates to self-identify may be well-intentioned, it should always be done voluntarily. Never make questions like these mandatory on forms, email signatures or anywhere else in a professional capacity. This can cause more harm than good, if you force someone who is not ready to publicly share their identity to ‘come out’.

make sure your benefits are inclusive

Many companies have zero-tolerance policies when it comes to discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These zero-tolerance harassment and discrimination policies are clearly written in your terms and conditions as a company. However, do these zero-tolerance policies apply to your benefits packages and other perks provided through your company? Does your company's health and benefits package acknowledge 2SLGBTQIA+ people and their realities? 

Does your company’s health insurance have spousal coverage for same-sex partners? Do they include transition coverage? Only 14% of employers actually cover the costs for employees who are transitioning. Think about how you can create inclusive benefits and perks that include everyone and acknowledge 2SLGBTIA+ people and their realities.

make an effort going forward

We all make mistakes in life. It’s part of the learning process. If you make a mistake, apologize and own up to it, don’t make excuses. Whether you’re part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ or not, there’s a very good chance that some of your employees are. And everyone benefits when your company is authentic and willing to learn and be accountable for providing the best for all your employees. It’s just like mispronouncing a colleague’s name. You make a mistake, get corrected, and make an effort to correct it going forward. 

First and foremost, providing an inclusive work environment is all about leading by example. Be aware of all the ways that your message can be interpreted and how you’re using language. Take a moment to step back and think about whether the message you are trying to convey is inclusive or not. You don’t have to do it alone. You can create support groups and networks at your company. Creating employee resource groups will help your company learn and understand how to make positive policy changes and how to be more inclusive as a company in general.

eliminating barriers for new immigrants.

Being inclusive doesn’t stop at supporting at 2SLGBTQIA+ employees. Are your policies inclusive for new immigrants? Check out our article to find out how you can break down barriers for new immigrants.

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