Employee Support Strategies During The Marriage Equality Debate

Employee Support Strategies During The Marriage Equality Debate

Marriage equality is still a pipe dream for Australian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, despite growing support, and increasing legislative guarantees internationally.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is currently conducting a postal survey which asks Australians whether the law should be changed to enable same sex couples to marry. This non-binding survey is essentially a nationwide opinion poll, which depending on the results, may lead to a vote in parliament to change the law. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the parliamentary vote will go ahead if the YES vote wins but it won’t if the majority of voting Australians say NO.

The uncertainty around the deeply personal matter of whether two people who love each other can marry continues to have significant personal ramifications for LGBTI people and their families, it may also spill over into the workplace.

Pride in Diversity, the national employer support program for LGBTI workplace inclusion, says the workplace impacts of heightened debates around marriage equality include:

  • An increase in stress and anxiety levels among LGBTI employees
  • An increase in harmful conversations within the workplace
  • Minority stress can impact workplace performance and general staff wellbeing
  • Possible rise in anti-LGBTI or anti/religious/cultural sentiment
  • Potential creation of an ‘us’ and ‘them culture within organisations and adjacent social settings
  • Extended impact on non-LGBTI supporters and allies

To minimise the impact of these effects on employees and the workplace more widely HR teams need to be aware of the potential for harm and should take a proactive role in affirming and reiterating inclusive workplace policies.

While the decision is ultimately in the hand of the voting population, there is also plenty employers can do at an organisational level to support LGBTI employees, and their supporters, during the lead up to the results announcement and in the last few weeks of the debate. Pride in Diversity has put together a practical list of actions that employers can take to support LGBTI employees in the lead up to the survey results:

  • Organisation wide communication reiterating organisational support of LGBTI staff and acknowledgement of the difficult nature of the debate, including safe contact people within the organisation
  • Highlighting leave options available for those who require it
  • Sending/resending the ACON Staying Strong During the Marriage Equality Debate resource
  • Contact your EAP provider to confirm willingness and capability to support LGBTI staff around the debate and consequential outcomes (and communicate this to staff)
  • Host an event such as a morning tea on results day (15 November) to allow staff to come together and support each other (preparing adequately for both a debrief and a celebration)
  • Physical presence of EAP counsellors at the time of the announcement and potentially for the days following
  • ‘Lunch and learn/support’ hosted weekly in the lead-up to the announcement to allow staff to come together for support/guidance/debriefing
  • ‘Coffee roulette’ in which LGBTI committee makes themselves available to the organisation once a week for LGBTI staff as well as supporters and those wishing to help to ask questions, learn and get support from members of the committee.

Source Pride in Diversity October Newsletter

No matter what the outcome is Pride In Diversity is encouraging employers to acknowledge the result at the organisational level and provide a forum for employees to talk about their feelings with colleagues and peers in the days leading up to the announcement and for a few days afterwards.

Download Supporting your employees affected by the debate on marriage equality by Pride in Diversity.