It’s no secret that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training has skyrocketed over the past two years. In fact, after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black Americans, 86% of financial executives in North America expanded their budgets for DEI training. And while this training has rightfully focused on racial equity the past few years, the focus on one dimension of diversity means that issues pertaining to women, veterans, people with disabilities and more, are often put on the back burner. LGBTQ+ inclusivity is no exception to this trend.

However, with 7.1% of the U.S. adult population identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s paramount that companies invest in LGBTQ+ inclusivity training for their organization. Furthermore, this percentage will likely continue to increase as the demographic makeup of the country continues to change and more and more individuals feel comfortable being “out.”

Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ employees do not feel comfortable being “out” at work, highlighting the need for such inclusivity training. In fact, 31% of LGBTQ+ professionals in the United States have faced blatant discrimination or microaggressions at work, and of those who remain “closeted,” 26% worry they’d be treated differently and 47% fear it would negatively impact a job search.

Not only is fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging the right thing to do for all of your employees, it’s also a business imperative. Research indicates that employees in organizations with cultures of inclusion and allyship are 50% less likely to leave, 75% less likely to take a sick day, 56% more likely to work to improve their performance and up to 167% more likely to recommend their organization as a great place to work. That is to say, overall, employees at inclusive organizations are happier and more productive, creating a significant bottom-line impact.

Now that you understand the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusivity training, let’s go over some best practices for maximum impact.

  1. Make your training strongly recommended, but optional. While this may seem counterintuitive, training is most effective when it is not mandatory. In fact, mandatory training often increases resistance and defensiveness. Therefore, training should be optional, but senior leaders throughout the organization should attend as a model for the rest of the employee base. Additionally, you might consider incentivizing attendance.
  2. Establish learning agreements. Start any DEI training session by establishing a safe space free of judgment and fear. Some recommended learning agreements include:
    1. Assume positive intent.
    2. Engage in dialogue, not debate.
    3. Hold yourself and others accountable for demonstrating cultural humility.
    4. Be open, transparent and willing to admit mistakes.
    5. Embrace the power of humble listening.
    6. Create trusting and safe spaces – spaces where a little bit of discomfort is okay.
    7. Commit to having conversations that matter by speaking up to bridge divides.
  3. Focus on the human component. Remind people that despite different values, beliefs, backgrounds, races, gender identities, sexual orientations and cultures, we all have one very important thing in common: We are human. In fact, all human beings are 99.9% identical in their genetic makeup.
  4. Share personal stories. If you are comfortable doing so, share your own personal story, whether that’s your story of coming out, becoming an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, or moving past former preconceived notions about the community. Research has shown, time and time again, that storytelling is one of the most powerful methods to increase empathy, change attitudes and influence behavior.
  5. Amplify LGBTQ+ voices. Whether you employ a willing internal employee, or an external expert, make sure to include LGBTQ+ voices within your training. As first stated by disabilities rights activist James Charlton, “nothing about us without us.” In other words, no policy, training, donation or celebration, should be decided without the full and direct participation of members of the group affected by that action.
  6. Make sure the training is extensive. Because of the historical lack of LGBTQ+ inclusivity training in organizations, many employees may enter the training with little to no former knowledge. As such, it’s critical to cover as much material as possible without overwhelming new learners. A few pieces of information that you should aim to cover include terminology, pronouns, inclusive language, inclusive hiring practices, and policy and employee handbook updates.
  7. Teach people how to respond when someone comes “out.” Not knowing how to respond when a co-worker comes “out,” can lead folks to do or say the wrong thing in the moment, perpetuating a non-inclusive company culture. Supply folks with a script and a few actions they can take to respond in this scenario. A simple formula people can use is 1.) thank the person for trusting you, 2.) ask how you can support them and 3.) depending on the situation, ask who else knows, so that you can protect their privacy/safety.
  8. Pair concrete information with attainable, actionable takeaways. Most DEI training is based on disseminating knowledge without providing post-training action items. Therefore, there is a lack of sustainable follow through because participants still have the question “what do I do?” Make sure that you provide concrete next steps participants can take.
  9. Link to organizational values. Remind participants that the purpose of the training is not to change anyone’s religious beliefs or political choices. Rather, it is about understanding and respecting each other in the workplace and being held accountable for the organization’s mission, vision and values.
  10. Give space for questions and discussion. As mentioned before, some people may be new to this information and need permission to ask what’s on their mind. Others may need space to think aloud and process the information. Another group of folks might want to share their own personal stories. Take this opportunity to remind participants of the learning agreements so that people can ask questions and share thoughts openly and without fear of retaliation.

LGBTQ+ inclusivity training is a comparatively new form of DEI training that is only now starting to take off. However, the benefits of getting this training right are clear. With the tips above in mind, make sure that you are tailoring your training to your organization’s specific needs and readiness. Continue to meet people where they are on their DEI journey so that your organization can move the needle sustainably and continually.