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Lucie Garvin: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most inclusive of them all?

Thursday 06 July 2017

Lucie Garvin, Helpline Knowledge Manager at Acas discusses creating an inclusive work environment for the LGBT+ community.

Lucie Garvin Lucie Garvin

Lucie joined Acas in 2008 and worked on the helpline before moving on to individual conciliation.

She has been working with the helpline training team for the last four years, helping with training updates on legal knowledge and complex questions for the helpline.

 

When it comes to answering calls on the Acas national helpline, one piece of advice I often give colleagues about choosing the right words is 'be like a mirror'. So if someone refers to their 'partner' so do you. If they say 'boyfriend', you say 'boyfriend, or if they say 'significant other' you say 'significant other'. It's avoids confusion and shows respect. Sounds easy enough?

I'll give you an example of what could happen:

Female caller: "Hi, my partner is being bullied at work and we're at our wit's end."

Me: "How long has he worked for the company?"

Female caller: "She has worked there for two years..."

Me: "Oh.... right!"

To some people it might seem trivial, but for the thousands of people we talk to every week language can create a barrier to trust. People often pick up the phone to us when they are in a very emotional state. The last think they want is the feeling that we are making preconceived assumptions about their lives. They certainly shouldn't have to stop and put us right on their sexual orientation or their partner's gender identity or expression.

It's not about political correctness or people feeling they are treading on eggs shells. It's about knowing that small changes to the words we use every day can have a huge impact on those around us.

Thinking about your employees or workers as well as your customers is important too. Creating an inclusive work environment for the LGBT+ community takes work and continued dedication - it must go beyond the words to include our actions and values.

Creating gender-neutral HR policies and workplace communications where possible can create a massively different working environment for someone in the LGBT+ community. For example, this could mean.

  • Social events that invite partners rather than husbands and wives/girlfriends and boyfriends.
  • Holding regular equality and diversity training and events, which look at LGBT+ issues specifically.
  • Company/organisation-wide messages of support during high profile times of year. For example, during LGBT history month and over the summer period, when many towns and cities are holding their LGBT+ pride events/festivals.
  • Creating employee groups for LGBT+ staff and allies creates safe and inclusive spaces. Some organisations use the rainbow flag and colours as a sign to their workers and customers that they support and respect the LGBT+ community.
  • Adding "Mx" to an application form, customer form or internal document alongside Miss, Mr, Ms, Mrs and Dr etc can provide a much appreciated option for those who perhaps prefer to avoid specifying their gender or for people who prefer not to identify or express themselves as either man or woman.

Changing a work environment or customer service experience may not always be quick or easy. Quite often though it's the small changes/gestures made every day from every level of an organisation that start to make a difference.

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