In 2008, Lucie Garvin joined Acas as helpline knowledge manager. She spent four years working on training the helpline team at the company by updating them on legal knowledge and answering complex questions before eventually moving to another role within the company as individual conciliator.
Lucie’s advice when it comes to answering the phone calls of people who seek help and advice is to ‘be like a mirror’ in the language you use when speaking to callers. Basically what she means is that if someone refers to their ‘boyfriend’, you say ‘boyfriend’. On the other hand, if the caller says ‘significant other’, you should also use ‘significant other’. Don’t you think that’s easy enough not to make the caller or other person feel comfortable?
Let’s imagine a scenario of what could happen should a caller be made to feel uncomfortable. Have a look at the conversation below:
Male caller: “Hi, my partner is being bullied at work and I don’t know what I can do. ”
Respondent: “How long has she worked for the company?”
Male caller: “He’s worked there for five years…”
Respondent: “Oh…. ok. Right”
Whilst to some people the conversation might seem insignificant, the incorrect use of language and intonation in this scenario has the potential to build a wall between you and the caller. Fundamentally, as a helpline respondent, you must always try to respond with great sensitivity in order for the caller to feel at ease.
After all, people that generally phone helplines do typically do so as a result of feeling vulnerable and very emotional. So in essence, the last thing you want is to stop them right in their tracks by asking about their/their partner’s sexuality or showing shock/judgement.
Overall, the message Lucie Garvin was trying to give when training individuals is that it’s not really about making people feel uncomfortable and like they’re treading on ice or about being politically correct. Ultimately, it’s about recognizing that the words you use are powerful.
Other than making callers feel included in society, it’s also crucial to make employees as well as employers included. Fundamentally, it’s important for people not to feel as if they’ve been cast aside because of their sexuality.
This is exactly why different companies across the globe should implement HR policies and methods of communication for the work environment to include people coming from the LGBT+ society. Here are a few things that could be done at the workplace:
- Organizing social events that invite partners rather than wives/husbands or wives/boyfriends.
- Holding frequent meetings and training sessions on equality within the workplace.
- Adding an ‘Mx’ title to an application form alongside Miss, Mr, Ms, Mrs, and Dr to provide an option for people who prefer to remain gender neutral than to identify with one particular gender.
- Showing support during LGBT history month and pride events/festivals.
- Creating a support group for LGBT+ staff.
Whilst changing a company’s work environment is neither an easy nor a quick thing to do, it’s often small gestures which are deeply appreciated by the LGBT+ community and will make a difference in their lives as well as the lives of people around them.
It is recommended that your company has an equality and diversity policy in place and Twenty One law can assist with this. For further information please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org