It is a huge understatement to say that public perception of homosexuality and gay rights has changed rapidly in the last 20 years. The recent Supreme Court decision granting same-sex couples the right to marry is just the latest victory for the gay rights movement, and it is by no means the endgame.
However, there is little guidance for how managers—especially managers within traditionally straight, male-dominated industries such as sales—can best respond to this cultural shift and create an inclusive work environment.
Societal perceptions have outpaced legislative changes. There are few laws on the books to help inform inclusive workplace policies. No federal statute prohibits private sector sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. State laws are inconsistent, with 29 states having no laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 33 states lacking statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
Management may be at a loss for understanding how to create a supportive work environment for LGBT employees—especially because sales managers may even be unaware that LGBT people are on their sales team. A 2014 study by the Human Rights Campaign found that 53% of LGBT people are “closeted on the job.”
Beyond outright discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity (like employment termination), what are some ways that sales managers can avoid discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender sales reps and create an inclusive work environment?
Sales is an industry built on relationships. Sales management may be concerned that assigning an LGBT sales rep to an account could hamper a potentially lucrative relationship, or destroy an existing relationship with a conservative client.
It is essential that sales management be confident in the abilities of their sales team, beyond race, gender, and sexual orientation. Enabling the discriminatory behavior of a client could cost you the trust of your team.
Establish a Policy
Think an anti-discrimination policy isn’t required because your sales team doesn’t have any LGBT people? Remember, the majority of LGBT people aren’t “out” at work. If you have LGBT sales reps on your sales team, they may not be comfortable sharing that part of their life with colleagues.
Establishing an anti-discrimination policy sends a message to closeted team members that they are in a supportive work environment, while also making it clear to all team members that discriminatory behavior isn’t professional and won’t be tolerated.
It also sends that message to prospective hires, which means you can attract the best applicants regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
Not having an anti-discrimination policy can make talented LGBT applicants more wary of your organization and more likely to take their talents to a competitor that explicitly includes them unless you heavily compensate for their risk (e.g. paying much more).
Selleration’s policy on hiring salespeople is simple: Hire the best, regardless of race, sexual orientation, etc.
Sales management should also look at their own interaction with LGBT sales reps. Do those team members get the attention the rest of your sales team receives?
Management’s behavior sets the tone for the rest of the team. If LGBT members are left out of communications and mentoring sessions, staff could take that as a cue to turn their backs as well.
Are you an LGBT sales rep, or a sales manager who has implemented policies and approaches to create a more inclusive workplace? Leave a comment and let us know how your company has approached this issue.