LGBTQ Workplace Inclusion: An Interview with Maryam Din

maryam din

While Pride Month is a great initiative in itself, diversity, equity, and inclusion are year-long goals if your business is striving for LGBTQ workplace inclusion and, in a larger scope, overall employee satisfaction.

Companies that stand with their LGBTQ staff can help spearhead important societal changes – and in a time when consumers are more conscious about the products and services they buy than ever, this can prove crucial to their business reputation.

To delve further into this topic, we spoke to Maryam Din, a client account manager at long-running LGBTQ charity Stonewall. Maryam, who helps businesses with their LGBTQ workplace inclusion initiatives, gives us a rundown of the latest victories and challenges in this area. They also shared their take on what you can do as a business to support your LGBTQ staff.

maryam din
Maryam has been working with Stonewall since 2021 and is currently co-chair of the organisation's BAME/PoC Staff Network

Which differences have you seen in the last five years regarding LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace?

The first one is around legal protections. Well, it’s been longer than five years, but the Equality Act 2010 is really a world-leading piece of legislation which prohibits discrimination based on a number of protected characteristics, which includes sexual orientation and gender reassignment. We’ve seen organisations and workplaces go above and beyond the baseline of the law by supporting all LGBTQ people to thrive.

Besides that, we’ve seen many more organisations adopting inclusive policies and practices to support their LGBTQ employees, specifically implementing anti-discrimination policies, having employee resource groups or staff network groups, offering different types of training and workshops, and also getting involved in campaigns to promote understanding and inclusivity.

We’ve also seen a bigger drive for that visibility and representation, and for having supportive employee benefits that specifically include LGBTQ colleagues. We’ve seen an increase in organisations seeking trans-inclusive healthcare coverage and being inclusive of LGBTQ people and their families. We’ve also seen a big push for Pride events to become more prominent and more inclusive.

It’s interesting you mention Pride events, because from a PR perspective, companies can fear being accused of ‘pinkwashing‘ if they get involved. Is there a way to avoid that?

The key thing to remember here is, if your organisation is working on LGBTQ inclusion, it absolutely isn’t pinkwashing. We know what pinkwashing looks and feels like, and it absolutely isn’t that if you’re doing the work behind the scene, but that’s something that my clients sometimes do have that concern of. If you’re doing the work already, showcase it.

That said, there isn’t a single right way to do this work because it differs across businesses. Each business will have their own unique challenges and different audiences. Also, the landscape of where they operate can look vastly different. Perhaps having loud and proud Pride celebrations in countries that have stronger legal protections for that would be a safe thing to do. However, in others, this isn’t the best thing to do because we have to consider the safety of colleagues, right? That’s always paramount. There are lots of things to think about, but one thing I’d always recommend is letting the LBGTQ community lead and really listening to it.

Pro-LGBTQ initiatives by big companies tend to be highly publicised, which can leave small business owners thinking they can’t be part of that change. What could they do to support LGBTQ employees in your opinion?

There’s a lot that smaller business owners can do. For starters, looking at creating a culture that values equality, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Are your policies LGBTQ-inclusive? Do you have guidelines and policies for gender transition at work guidelines and policies you know do you have them? Do you have inclusive benefits? Do you have pronoun usage guidelines? What training and online resources do you offer?

Overall, seeking employee input is really key. What do your LGBTQ employees want to see from the workplace? What do they want to see you doing? What do they want to see you offering?

Besides consulting with your own people, I’d also recommend reaching out to local LGBTQ charities and organisations and asking them what support they need. It doesn’t always have to be financial support either. It can be offering office space, it could be offering your time and resources. Maybe a local group needs support in building a website or something, or starting up a fundraiser, and you can help with that.

people participating of a pride parade
Being part of Pride events is one of the many ways you can show support of your LGBTQ employees

In your experience, which business sectors have been more advanced and which have been lagging behind when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion?

I think it’s difficult to look at that in terms of sectors, but what I have seen is that businesses that have a lot of frontline employees have some difficulty in getting, for instance, LGBTQ inclusion training out to employees who aren’t behind a desk. However, an organisation that I work with called Sodexo is like that and they’ve created an internal app for employees, which is a great way to get the relevant information out to employees who may just have a mobile phone and not a laptop.

Did You Know?

The charity Maryam works for, Stonewall, was created in 1989 and is the largest LGBTQ rights organisation in Europe.

Apart from that, which are the biggest challenges businesses are facing right now when it comes to LGBTQ workplace inclusion?

Unfortunately, we’re seeing a rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ people in the UK, so we need to be even clearer on what discrimination and bias looks like in the workplace as well. Some LGBTQ staff do face prejudice and have reported so from other colleagues but also from clients and customers so it’s very real. Including information on this in your training can really help colleagues to identify these types of behaviours and also empower them on how to challenge those unwanted behaviours as well. It can also be challenging to reach senior leaders and educate people about the various LGBTQ identities and what inclusive workplace practices look like.

What can be done to overcome these challenges?

Having that strong leadership commitment, openly demonstrating support for LGBTQ inclusion, allocating resources for it, and really leading by example. Also, ensuring that you’ve got comprehensive training for employees, managers, and senior leadership teams, being honest about what your workplace culture is like at the moment and looking at what you can do to help foster an environment where all employees feel safe, respected, and valued

Would you say the lack of LBGTQ support initiatives can impact negatively on the business reputation of a company?

There’s a lot of impact on that, to be honest. When we look at young people entering the job market now, they’re looking for businesses that outwardly align with their own values. That really includes the entirety of equality, diversity and inclusion. They want to hear what businesses say on a whole plethora of topics. For example, we saw businesses truly coming out for support of the Black Lives Matter movement after what happened to George Floyd. Gender pay gap and sustainable businesses are also hot topics for everyone, but especially for young graduates. I think it can do reputational damage if companies are silent on these matters because people want to hear and also they don’t want to work for an employer that may not necessarily align with their values.

We’ve seen backlash to companies supporting LGBTQ causes in recent years. Which comment would you make for companies that are facing or have faced that?

These organisations and businesses should remember that they’re on the right side of history. They should be strengthened in their resolve and their commitment to really defending and uplifting marginalised and underrepresented communities – in this instance, the LGBTQ community.

I think it’s really powerful not to be swayed by whatever the prevailing public opinion is at the time, but doing that in a way that ensures that your staff are safe as well. It’s important to remember why you’re doing the work and being steadfast in that – especially in this climate – and really backing those communities and backing your employees.

How do you see the workplace changing over the next five – ten years for LGBTQ people?

I can see over the next five, 10, however many years, the continued activism and advocacy for LGBTQ rights. We can see a push for progress, holding businesses accountable, but then businesses also holding governments accountable for LGBTQ inclusion. Through that, we can see increased awareness, accountability, and support from organisations as well when it comes to LGBTQ people in the workplace.

I was talking earlier about legal protections. This is an incredible opportunity for businesses to step up not only for the employees and colleagues, but also for activists and people in the countries in which they’re based. Businesses might not be necessarily protesting on the streets, but they have a lot of power when it comes to negotiating with governments, so I think it’s important to consider that.

I really believe that with continued work, advocacy, education, and commitment to DEI, workplaces have a huge potential to become more equitable and supportive for LGBTQ people in the coming years, not just in the company quarters, but also in the society and communities they serve.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Written by:
Lucas Pistilli author headshot photo
Lucas is a Brazilian-born journalist and Expert Market’s go-to writer for all things EPOS systems, merchant accounts, and franking machines. Having covered business, politics and technology for many years, he’s driven by his passion for the written word and his goal to help people make well-informed decisions.