Is Your Organisation Really Inclusive?

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The term LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual. It is an umbrella term for people who identify with any of these sexual orientations or gender identities.


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South Africa’s constitutional developments of early democracy witnessed major strides in protecting the LGBTQIA+ community. The Civil Union Act is an example of legislation that aimed to recognise gay marriages and protect these unions – a move hailed as a change in the right direction; a step closer toward equality.

These strides were fought for by the Gay and Lesbian movements of the 1980s and 1990s against the backdrop of South Africa’s transition and in a climate of volatile change.

While these achievements have been significant and should always be honoured as such, there remains a noticeable disjuncture and disconnect between protective legislation and the realities and experiences of this marginalised community. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community remain subjected to structural violence, discrimination, sexual violence, social and economic exclusion, and everyday micro-aggressions.

As a society, we have yet to acknowledge, understand, and grapple with these different forms of queerphobia violence. Exclusion and discrimination in the workplace are common and present other barriers that require daily negotiation.

A 2021 study by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation found that 40% of LGBT employees in South Africa experienced discrimination at work. It is a context where institutionalised bigotry and othering is embedded within the country’s histories and woven into the very fabric of this “post- apartheid” society.

Work spaces mirror society and it would be naive to assume that the multitude of injustices – so pervasive in South Africa – do not play themselves out in the workplace as well. The truth is that South Africa remains a difficult and hostile space to live and thrive in as a queer person and our existence often hinges on our proximity to power and privilege along racial, economic and social lines.

As far as queerphobia/homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are concerned, South African workplaces have been complicit in these hostilities for too long, and have ultimately normalised and condoned queerphobic behaviours and language. For queer people of colour or Black queer people, these struggles are often compounded by the realities of racialised inequalities, racism, white supremacy and pervasive racial power dynamics in South Africa.

Office culture must be scrutinised since workplace values and social and cultural norms reinforced (subtly or overtly) in the work environment play a critical role in how comfortable or safe members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel in the professional space. Workplaces must make concerted efforts to create a healthy and welcoming environment for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Creating a safe environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals needs to be deliberate, intentional and genuine. It needs to be collaborative and transformative to place the needs of marginalise persons at the centre.

The workplace can no longer be yet another place where our identities and our lives come under violent attack. Our lives are worthy of protection and dignity too.

Several things can be done to overcome discrimination in the workplace in South Africa. These include:

  • Educating yourself and others about LGBTQIA+ issues: The more people know about LGBTQIA+ people, the less likely they are to discriminate against them.
  • Adopting non-discrimination policies that explicitly protect LGBTQIA+ people.
  • Providing training on LGBTQIA+ issues for employees.
  • Creating a culture of respect and inclusion where everyone feels welcome and valued.
  • Supporting employee resource groups for LGBTQIA+ people.
  • Offering benefits that are inclusive of LGBTQIA+ couples and families.

By taking these steps employers can create a workplace where all employees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, feel safe, welcome, and respected.

Diversity and inclusion are two interconnected concepts—but they are far from interchangeable.

Diversity focuses on representation or the make-up of an entity. Inclusion is about how well the contributions, presence, and perspectives of different groups of people are valued and integrated into an environment.

Our LGBTQIA+ competency training is included in our Cognitive Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging training, and covers all the keys: sensitivity, respect, unconscious bias, microaggressions and more. More importantly, you’ll discover how to apply these skills to benefit your organisation and everyone involved.

  • Use appropriate language and behaviours.
  • Understanding Pronouns.
  • Gender identity and gender expression.
  • Microaggressions and microinvalidations.
  • Being a supportive LGBTQIA+ colleague (Ally).

Please contact [email protected] or [email protected] or visit the CorporateWise website to find out more.

Suggested Article:

Business support for LGBT+ staff

While progress and strides have certainly been made when it comes to workplace equality, many members of the LGBT+ community are still anxious about revealing their sexuality at work.

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