Creating workplaces friendly to LGBTQ

CORALVILLE ? More than 50 percent of the LGBTQ community ? those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning ? do not disclose their identity at work.

?If you don?t have the ability to come out, then you lack that authenticity in your workforce,? Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel said Thursday at the LGBTQ Workplace Culture Summit, the first in Eastern Iowa.

?Having that representation in the workforce brings to light things you might need to work on,? he said at the summit at the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa in Coralville.

?We want to make sure we have workplaces that are an inclusive environment,? he said. ?We spend most of our time at work, and it just makes most sense strategically.?

Hoffman-Zinnel is executive director of One Iowa, an LGBTQ advocacy not-for-profit based in Des Moines that hopes to make the summit an annual event as a way to encourage businesses to create a diverse, inclusive work environment. About 40 people, including representatives of some of the Corridor?s largest companies, attended the inaugural summit.

Hoffman-Zinnel said LGBTQ efforts are focused on the workplace, now that the community won the right to same-sex marriage in Iowa in 2009.

It makes sense for employers to have policies and a culture in place that embrace LGBTQ employees, Hoffman-Zinnel said. It helps those employees be more satisfied and stay at a company longer. And, he said, many consumers and clients want to support inclusive businesses.

Heather Schott, diversity and inclusion leader at Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, said it takes effort, trust and buy-in of management and employees to change a workplace culture.

?It?s not about changing the (individual). It?s about changing the foundation,? she said. ?We open that front door and say ?come on in, we want diversity,? but what do we do when people actually join the company??

Schott, a lesbian, said it?s important for LGBTQ individuals and other employees to be authentic and not be afraid to disrupt a current company culture.

That means employees and other LGBTQ individuals may need to get accustomed to being ?comfortable in the uncomfortable,? she said.

However, Schott said, LGBTQ individuals should avoid being abrasive.

?Put others at ease, meet them where they?re at,? she said. ?Challenge the process, but don?t shut it down. Be the person that?s willing to say. ?Why is this person quiet in the corner? What can I do to make them feel important????

Hoffman-Zinnel also shared tips on things companies can do immediately to being a culture shift, such as updating dress code policies. Detail what employees should not wear instead of detailing the ideal dress for just men and women. Having a policy on gender transition, and talking about families in less of a traditional sense, also are becoming more crucial for companies.