7 TIPS to Strengthen LGBTQ+ Workplace DEI

By Anna-Liza Badaloo
More and more workplaces are implementing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs. But DEI programs don’t automatically translate to substantive LGBTQ+ equity progress in the workplace. Worse still, such programs may actually harm the very employees they are meant to support.
QBiz sat down with Jade Pichette, manager of programs at Pride at Work Canada, and Gregory John, a gay Métis man who works in Indigenous engagement in the energy sector (and nominee for this year’s CGLCC LGBT Business Advocate of the Year Award), to get their pro tips on how companies can go beyond superficial DEI programs to create lasting change.


It’s easy to book a trainer to hold a DEI workplace course. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best place to start. In fact, holding DEI training without other organizational supports in place can seriously backfire. “One workplace had an issue where somebody made transphobic comments during the training, and that had a ripple effect on other employees,” notes Pichette. “I think it’s a more common experience than we realize.”
What do organizations that are successfully implementing authentic, lasting impact and DEI change have in common? “They start from a big-picture perspective,” says Pichette. “They start with buy-in from leadership. They start with providing networks for employees, including providing them with budgets and direct support and engagement with the organization as a whole.”
Employee resource groups (ERG) and networks can effectively foster workplace community, providing employees with opportunities to connect and develop. “Employee resource groups are a really important piece of employee development, or they can be,” says Pichette. “Sometimes they result in a lot of effort by a small number of people, but they can be a really powerful resource.”


“Often, the business imperative is the driver for these initiatives,” notes John. “So, when they don’t get those business outcomes immediately, they wonder whether the program is worth resourcing. I find the number-one issue is the lack of resources.”
This can lead to understaffed DEI programs with few supports. “It can’t just be one person, because then it turns into performative tokenism,” explains John. “But it also needs to be financially resourced over the long run. They might not see those business drivers come out of one year’s worth of work. Just like reconciliation with Indigenous people, it’s an ongoing commitment to those values and beliefs. That can’t be done in a short time period.”


For many companies, participating in Pride parades and decking out their brand in rainbows are the ultimate show of support for the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, such external optics can take priority over providing internal support to queer employees.
Take the 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Florida. “We saw this outpouring of support from big companies who put out all these messages saying, ‘We support the LGBTQ2+ communities, and we’re here for you!’” recalls Pichette. “Meanwhile, they forgot to check in with their queer staff and say, ‘Hey, if you are struggling right now and need to take an extra day off, go ahead. Here’s access to our Employee Assistance Program and inclusive counsellors.’ There are a few companies who managed to do that right, but the majority didn’t.”


“It’s not to say that companies shouldn’t do queer-focused marketing,” says Pichette. “But the marketing must be authentic and rooted in community.” The best way to meaningfully include the LGBTQ+ perspective is to ensure that internal marketing teams include queer people, and/or engage external queer contractors. “There’s no one right way of approaching the community. You need people within the community to help you with that complexity,” explains Pichette. “That’s why Pride at Work Canada has over 200 partners. Getting that external support is really important.”
“ There’s no one right way of approaching the community. You need people within the community to help you with that complexity.  


What happens when organizations decide to raise the voice of queer employees – only to find that they have none? “Maybe people aren’t comfortable being out at work, because there are members of our community everywhere you go,” Pichette wonders.
Employers must consider the risks involved in self-disclosing, such as limiting career opportunities and changing how their work is perceived. “If people aren’t self-disclosing, that’s a huge sign that the company has not earned that trust,” notes John. “We need to set up a mechanism and a reason why people should self-disclose that matches an understanding of what risks people are taking by doing that. And then honour those disclosures, with a way to elevate those voices within the corporation.”


Ontario-based brewery Collective Arts is one company getting it right. In preparation for an external Pride marketing campaign, they included queer and trans people on their internal marketing team. But they didn’t stop there – they also hired externally for queer artists.“And, they didn’t use a single rainbow!” exclaims Jade Pichette, manager of programs at Pride at Work Canada. “Funny enough, all the products they branded for Pride were explicitly clear.”
By donating a portion of proceeds from their Pride products to an LGBTQ+ charity, companies like Collective Arts Brewing are truly walking their talk not only for their own employees, but for the entire queer community.
Building trust externally can also help companies attract queer talent. “Do more work on making sure that you are an inclusive, welcoming employer,” suggests Pichette. “We need that talent on every team.”
Employers often hire John in as an external consultant to speak about queer and Indigenous inclusivity. Unfortunately, they don’t always value his opinion. “If you’re rejecting my experience, that’s a huge red flag for me,” says John. “If I can’t genuinely, authentically and vulnerably share my expertise through my experience without being rejected, that’s the quickest way to not build trust.” Employees may pick up on the dynamic, which may further erode trust within the organization.


Pichette has learned to view employer queer representation claims with a grain of salt. They may say, “We have someone from the community,” but if they have a white cisgender person talking about the Black trans experience, that’s a problem. “It erases the diversity within our community,” Pichette points out. “Sometimes it’s hard for us to see the complexity of equity-deserving groups.”
Navigating intersectional identities in the workplace is a struggle that John knows all too well. “I could be Indigenous before I could be gay,” he notes. Especially in the energy and environmental industries, companies clearly understand the value that his Indigenous perspective brings. But the value of his gay perspective isn’t as clear. “A lot of corporations simply aren’t there yet to take it to that next level of complexity and ask, ‘What does a gay Indigenous person offer the organization?’” says John.
Despite his workplace challenges, John understands why companies have a hard time taking intersectionality into account. “A standardized approach to ‘What do I get through somebody who celebrates their intersectionality’ is a complex discussion. It’s really about a single person, rather than a generalized statement about a community.”
“ If I can’t genuinely, authentically and vulnerably share my expertise through my experience without being rejected, that’s the quickest way to not build trust.  


Efforts to make workplaces more LGBTQ+ inclusive may not come exclusively from queer staff. “Parents who are cisgender and straight are some of the most powerful advocates that I’ve worked with,” says Pichette.
Starting with the people who are actually experiencing workplace discrimination is vital. But when parents of queer kids hold powerful positions, they can use their influence to advance LGBTQ+ equity within their organizations. “Frankly, a lot of senior leaders that I meet who are cisgender and straight, and work to make changes within their organization, are often parents of 2SLGBTQIA+ kids,” says Pichette.
Improving LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the workplace all comes down to humility, dedication and accountability. “Make sure that you’re open and committed,” Pichette advises. “Make sure that you’re humble when you make mistakes, and be accountable as an individual and as an organization.”


Internal DEI fails can seriously impact a brand’s public reputation – as Disney knows all too well. “Right now, we are seeing more anti-trans and anti-gay bills in the U.S. than ever before,” notes Jade Pichette, manager of programs at Pride at Work Canada.“
Disney was donating directly to political candidates who were creating those bills and putting them into effect. Meanwhile, they were talking very publicly about how they support and believe in the community.” Disney got significant blowback from both within the organization and externally, leading to a public apology by their CEO and a promise to cut funding from antigay sources.