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Building, Renewing, and Strengthening Existing Relationships: 8 Tips for fostering a Safe Workplace for Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) Co-Workers

Leave a little sparkle wherever you go

In light of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) holding that discrimination against an individual based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited under Title VII, more attention has been given to promoting and ensuring a safe workplace for SGM employees. As more individuals are bravely stepping forward and identifying in the workplace as SGM, the call for greater understanding and awareness is imperative to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all.

The purpose of these tips is to provide information that will enhance communication and interaction with SGM co-workers. It is not intended to dissuade personal opinions or religious beliefs regarding SGM individuals; rather, it is designed to highlight practical ways to create a safe, secure environment for SGM employees.

Creating a safe space for SGM employees demonstrates to the world NIH’s continued commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and providing world-class customer service to the public.

So, here are a few tips to consider as you build, renew, or strengthen existing relationships with SGM co-workers.

  1. Get Familiar – Using the correct terms can go a long way toward making your co-worker feel like the workplace is sensitive to the SGM community. Getting familiar with sexual orientation and gender identity terms and concepts demonstrate cultural sensitive, awareness, and knowledge. Learn more about SGM terms and definition.
  2. Get Educated – Register and attend NIH’s Safe Zone Training and other workshops that encourage workplace equality. Take initiative and seek out opportunities to increase your awareness and understanding of differences. View upcoming SGM training opportunities.
  3. Be Visible – Presume that, where you go, there may be SGM individuals present who are wondering how safe the environment is for them––so show support. Go to events, champion equality causes, use inclusive language.
  4. Don’t Assume – Never assume a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation based on secondary sex characteristics or what you hear in passing.
  5. Challenge – Challenge stereotypes and confront homophobic/heterosexist/cisgender privilege––regardless of who is present. Interrupt––and do so unapologetically. Report any behavior that violates the Agency’s anti-harassment, discrimination, and EEO diversity policy.
  6. Respect – Respect how people choose to name and identify themselves and their experiences. Understand that you only know someone’s orientation or gender identity after they tell you and know that this might change over time or based on situation. More importantly, respect the privacy of SGM people and do not “out” them to others.
  7. Integrate – Include SGM co-workers in your work. No one wants to be excluded from the after-work happy hour. When speaking up or providing educative moments on SGM related topics, know that you might be assumed to be SGM yourself. Resist the urge to correct people. Experience the oppression and watch your sensitivity and empathy expand.
  8. Familiarize – Familiarize yourself with policies, procedures, and resources at NIH and demand a workplace environment that affirms and respects the dignity of all persons irrespective of differences.

Now that you have been provided these tips, you are well on your way towards creating an inclusive workplace for your SGM co-workers. We hope that these tips will serve as valuable and accessible practices to integrate as you work alongside and provide quality service to SGM people and their communities.

Today is a great day to start supporting equality for all. Join the NIH as we make our workplace and communities a safe place to work and discover.

Learn more about the Sexual and Gender Minority Portfolio at NIH by visiting:

  • 1The term sexual and gender minority” (SGM) more broadly references LGBTI and other populations whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and reproductive development is considered outside cultural, societal, or physiological norms.