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Beyond performative activism in the workplace

As a historical movement that began with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 by gay activists in response to police raids in New York, Pride Month, celebrated in June in Canada, is a pivotal time for all Canadians to recognize the history and contributions of LGBTIQ2S+ communities. However, despite Canada’s international reputation as a progressive leader in promoting equality and freedom for LGBTIQ2S+ people, much work remains to be done.

Despite reports that hate crimes against sexual minorities are decreasing, a poll conducted by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion suggests that nearly 30% of LGBTIQ2S+ workers reported experiencing workplace discrimination, compared to 2.9% of non-LGBTIQ2S+ groups. Moreover, 75% of LGBTIQ2S+ individuals believe that employers should provide an opportunity for their staff to self-identify or disclose personal information about their identity. The message is clear: removing homophobia and transphobia from the workplace is not the same as addressing deep-seated systemic barriers and cultivating an environment that supports the success of all LGBTIQ2S+ members. The private sector must demonstrate meaningful commitment to move beyond compliance, adequately addressing the unique needs and challenges faced by LGBTIQ2S+ employees in the workplace, ensuring that their diverse voices are not only heard, but actively integrated.

One of the mass business initiatives related to ongoing LGBTIQ2S+ activism is associating corporate incentives with an individual’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In the last decade especially, rainbow objects have become a symbol of queer awareness and support, and at times, a performative display of allyship. For example, rainbow washing has been used by businesses that brand themselves as LGBTIQ2S+ allies, when in reality, heightened performative activism disguised as advocacy can raise concerns about what Pride is truly intended to stand for.

The UN Global Compact Network Canada believes that the current narrative has to shift in the private sector. Businesses must move away from performative activism and start incorporating meaningful changes to build safer spaces for LGBTIQ2S+ individuals by:

  • Extending health benefits to trans community members: While there has been some progress in providing health benefits to same-sex couples, trans communities have received insufficient attention. Companies should make health insurance policies inclusive of trans persons by providing transition leave and gender-neutral restrooms.
  • Building spaces for Employee Resource Groups: By creating employee-led spaces comprised of members who have shared lived experiences and challenges, as well as committed allies, this allows LGBTIQ2S+ communities to come together in a safe space to support one another and develop strong mentorship opportunities.
  • Using gender-inclusive language: Ensure that companies adopt gender inclusive pronouns in hiring and recruitment processes, as well as in company documents, letters, email correspondence, meetings, and other communication channels to display support and raise awareness of diverse gender identities.
  • Collecting disaggregated data: Workplace demographics can help organizations set measurable goals and milestones from a place of knowledge, and identify the impacts of these policies, practices, and initiatives on LGBTIQ2S+ communities.
  • Taking the UN LGBTIQ+ Standards Gap Analysis Tool: By taking this confidential self-assessment, businesses have the opportunity to better determine which particular areas they can improve on to advance equality for LGBTIQ2S+ communities in workplaces.

Restoring inclusive spaces for LGBTIQ2S+ members is not merely a human rights responsibility; it also has financial, operational, and cultural benefits for businesses, as inclusive policies lead to a more productive work environment and higher retention rates. As such, it is necessary that the corporate sector take concrete steps to eliminate discriminatory practises against LGBTIQ2S+ communities. Engage with the UN Global Compact to learn more about how your workplace can better allocate resources for LGBTIQ2S+ members, and take the next steps in your human rights journey.

18 June 2022

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