October is LGBT History Month, and learning and development (L&D) leaders often use this time of year to review and update their current LGBTQ+ diversity training programs — or even launch their first one. With this in mind, what should you include in your organization’s LGBTQ+ diversity training program? And why should your organization offer one in the first place? Let’s dive in.

Why Companies Should Offer LGBTQ+ Diversity Training Programs

To begin, how do you convince stakeholders to invest in LGBTQ+ diversity training? Sandra Buatti-Ramos, principal, lead coach and consultant at Hyphen Coaching + Consulting, says that “training on diversity is essential to creating and maintaining a healthy work environment.” LGBTQ+ employees personally benefit when they feel comfortable and respected at work. This enables them to better focus and contribute to their peers and the company, she says. Dr. Jeff Maliskey, director of the Pride Center at the University of North Dakota, explains, “It is important that employees feel valued, appreciated, and respected. That’s how we continue to build a strong, productive workforce and retain employees.”

If stakeholders are hesitant to get started, there is no better time than the present. According to Bryce J. Celotto, M.A.T., founder and head of strategy at Swarm Strategy, “It’s important now more than ever that organizations and companies are well informed on LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion with the current landscape of anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country.” He argues that “engaging in workshops and education regarding LGBTQ+ identity, inclusion, and equity is a first step, a bare minimum, that organizations need to be doing” in response to the “more than 150+ bills have been introduced across the country.”

Celia Sandhya Daniels, the founder and chief executive officer of Rebekon Consulting LLC, adds that “in the wake of so many anti-transgender and gay bills in the country, we need to be mindful of protecting the LGBTQ+ employees so they feel psychologically safe, and they can speak up when they are targeted.” She shares that “providing a safe environment for the employees in the workplace is critical in countries that are not LGBTQ+ friendly.”

While LGBTQ+ employees can benefit from diversity training, there are also benefits to your company’s bottom line. As Buatti-Ramos points out, “organizations benefit from their [employees’] increased engagement, commitment to the organization, and productivity.” Simply put, “when any employee feels they are seen, heard, and valued, they give more,” says Dr. Steve Yacovelli, the owner and principal of TopDog Learning Group LLC.

What Content To Include In An LGBTQ+ Diversity Training Program

Now, what content should you include in your LGBTQ+ diversity training?

1. Start with the fundamentals.

Buatti-Ramos recommends beginning with “the basics on gender, sexuality, and other aspects of identity” when building out your organization’s LGBTQ+ diversity training strategy. She believes “it’s important to start with basics so that no one feels like they are behind — people tend to reject things that make them feel inadequate.” She explains that you can “frame the material in a way in which everyone can see themselves reflected in the training.” This, she says, “is essential to participant buy-in; otherwise, if you start at an advanced level, you risk losing people to disengagement.”

2. Educate employees on inclusive language.

Speaking of the basics, Celotto says that “inclusive language is a must” when designing your training. He explains that employees must understand what foundational terms like “transgender,” “cisgender,” “non-binary” and “LGBTQ+” mean. He also advises including an overview of queer history in your training, as “some people think that LGBTQ+ people are a ‘new’ phenomenon or some sort of trend.’” Learning about LGBTQ+ history can “ground people and debunk some common myths about our community,” he says. Additionally, Daniels says it’s important to customize your training based on your specific industry, as well as targeting it to the customers you serve.

3. Turn awareness into practice.

Maliskey says that your diversity training should also include “discussing experiences of bias, discrimination, and harassment towards LGBTQ+ people,” as well as “an overview of policies that protect and include LGBTQ+ employees.” But L&D leaders shouldn’t stop at the education stage. He highlights that while you want to start with awareness building, you must then move into practice. Training should “include ways to implement inclusive practice, identifying gaps and barriers and then identifying a plan to improve workplace inclusion, especially in the area of transgender, non-binary, and gender-diverse inclusionary practices.” Speaking of which, Geffrye Parsons, the chief executive officer and founder of The Inclusion Imperative, says LGBTQ+ diversity training “is no silver bullet — to be effective, rather than merely performative, it needs to form part of a wider effort to address policies and systemic practices.”

4. Teach employees how to be allies.

Another way to turn awareness into practice is by teaching employees how to be effective allies for the LGBTQ+ community, says Maliskey. According to Yacovelli, allyship means “being a leader who creates that sense of belonging for all underrepresented communities within their workplace.” So how do you teach your employees to be allies? He says a thoughtful training strategy encompasses not only inclusive language but only also teaches leaders to be aware of unconscious bias and how to navigate giving effective feedback.

5. Look at your larger L&D strategy.

Lastly, Celotto urges organizations not to limit themselves to a single training or workshop. Instead, he recommends learning leaders use such outreach as “a launching point to do a deep assessment of your HR policies.” He explains that “there is so much more than a workshop or training” that organizations can be doing to fight for equity in the workplace” and encourages you to reflect on your larger L&D strategy, including ensuring your benefits are inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and being prepared to combat microaggressions that LGBTQ+ people often face in the workplace.

On a final note, Yacovelli encourages L&D leaders to “hold their workplaces accountable to not ‘rainbow wash’ their focus on LGBTQ+ inclusivity in just June and/or October. Embracing your queer team members and making them feel they belong is a twelve-month commitment.” You’ve got this!