6 Ways to Make Your Nursing Workplace LGBTQ+ Inclusive
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The days of nurses in white caps and stockings are behind us, but does your workplace allow nurses to fully express their authentic selves? Whether you're celebrating being allowed to show off your tattoos or fresh blue haircut at work, think about how these small wins can make you feel. Now consider how important it is for LGBTQIA2S+ nurses to feel safe fully expressing themselves in the workplace.
When a healthcare facility allows individuals to be seen as themselves, nurses can thrive in their careers. They're equipped to make meaningful connections with those around them, from coworkers to patients.
You can support LGBTQ+ coworkers by becoming educated about their experiences and challenges as nurses. If you're not sure where to start, that's OK. We spoke to KT Sylvia, BSN, RN, who shares their experience as an LGBTQ+ nurse. They discuss how an inclusive environment impacts LGBTQ+ nurses and provide tips for making your workplace inclusive for LGBTQ+ nurses.
Understanding the Importance of an LGBTQ+ Inclusive Workplace
An inclusive workplace allows LGBTQ+ nurses to be themselves freely and be fully present with patients and colleagues. Sylvia shares how it feels to work in an environment that supports self-expression — and what it's like to work in one that doesn't.
Sylvia previously worked in an emergency department where they witnessed transphobic actions and antitrans speech. This caused Sylvia to become guarded and "hesitant to efficiently communicate, work as a team, and be my authentic self."
Clear lines of communication are crucial for safe delivery of patient care, especially in a trauma center. When a healthcare team establishes a strong rapport, they're equipped to provide better care to patients.
Sylvia shares how an inclusive, open environment in their current workplace has impacted their career as an LGBTQ+ nurse. With the support of a mindful clinical supervisor, Sylvia's coworkers respect their name choice and preferred pronouns. If a microaggression occurs, their supervisor discusses with Sylvia how they will address the issue.
"I am able to express my authentic self," Sylvia says. "I am able to build better rapport with my patients and focus my energy on their care."
6 Ways to Make Your Nursing Workplace LGBTQ+ Inclusive
You may work with a nurse colleague whose sexual or gender identity does not fall within traditional binary standards. They may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or LGBTQ+ — which can be another way of saying, "I don't fit in a box."
Nurses and nurse leaders must be intentional about creating an inclusive work environment for LGBTQ+ staff and patients. Here are six ways to make your nursing workplace LGBTQ+ inclusive.
1. Prioritize Diversity Among Staff
Healthcare employers can create an inclusive environment by evaluating strategies to recruit and retain LGBTQ+ nurses. When employers prioritize diversity and representation in healthcare within the nursing staff, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC nurses have more visibility. They are able to communicate openly with their team about their experiences, preferences, and needs in the workplace.
Representation has repeatedly been shown to increase the quality of patient care, too. When LGBTQ+ patients are cared for by LGBTQ+ nurses, they are more likely to receive the care most aligned with their needs.
2. Use Conscious Language
Staff can support LGBTQ+ nurses by using conscious word choice. By understanding gender-inclusive language for nurses, you'll speak in a way that is inclusive of all genders to avoid stereotyping or misgendering.
Normalize sharing pronouns with fellow nurses and patients. Ask all nurses what pronouns and name they would like others to use when referring to them.
Ask whether these pronouns and names are a preference or non-negotiable, and in what ways each person would like or not like others to correct patients or other staff when incorrect names and pronouns are used.
Avoid "deadnaming," which means referring to a trans person's given name before a gender change. Be aware that sometimes calling pronouns a "preference" can give the appearance of questioning or invalidating someone's gender. In other cases, someone may legitimately have preferences for names and pronouns that change according to the situation (such as with certain patients) or their gender (if, for example, they are gender fluid).
Also, avoid using stereotypes and insensitive language that may be hurtful to those around you.
Sylvia shares that subconscious or unintentional bias can be hurtful when it has effects on your language and behavior, so be mindful of your word choice and demeanor. Understanding gender-inclusive language helps, as does acknowledging mistakes and apologizing to a coworker if you've caused them harm.
3. Educate Staff
Informing yourself about gender and sexuality inclusivity is important, but nurse leaders can take measures to educate staff on a larger scale. Sylvia suggests nurse managers hire LGBTQ+ educators to teach staff ways to foster an inclusive workplace.
Although hospitals offer LGBTQ+ training through annual check-off modules, Sylvia says it helps to hear lessons from someone with firsthand experience.
"Listening to a person's lived experiences with challenges and stigmas in healthcare can highlight the impact of an inclusive environment, not only for nurses, but for patient care too," Sylvia says.
Healthcare facilities can also invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training to educate staff during hospital orientation or annual workshops. These training sessions help staff understand biases surrounding race, gender, and sexuality in the workplace.
We all have to do the work to unlearn conscious and unconscious bias. DEI training can prepare staff with the tools to communicate effectively while eliminating microaggressions.
Nurse nanagers should avoid assigning nurses to lead trainings simply because they hold an identity or characteristic that the staff needs training about, such as a nurse who identifies as LGBTQ+ giving LGBTQ+ training. Be conscious of asking for participation from LGBTQ+ nurses, rather than telling or assigning.
Many may not decline the assignment because of fear of retaliation. Also, consider that they might not be compensated for work that is not a part of their hired role.
4. Offer Benefits Unique to LGBTQ+ Nurses
Healthcare employers should recognize that LGBTQ+ nurses experience different health challenges than cisgender nurses. Sylvia suggests workplaces offer health benefits to help LGBTQ+ nurses with services such as:
- Gender-affirming care
- Equal parental policies
- Fertility assistance like in vitro fertilization or surrogacy
- Mental health support
Offering these benefits lets LGBTQ+ nurses know their needs are supported and valued in the workplace.
5. Implement Antidiscrimination Strategies
In addition to preventing bias through staff education and training, Sylvia says healthcare facilities must establish policies to address discrimination.
This begins with having policies that include gender-inclusive language and repercussions for LGBTQ+ discrimination. If LGBTQ+ nurses are discriminated against, they should have a place to report it and a safe space to communicate openly about their experience.
Sylvia also suggests facilities use conscious language in electronic health record (EHR) systems.
"Do not uphold systems that your own LGBTQ+ employees could not fit into," Sylvia says.
They recommend the EHR have a place where healthcare staff can view a patient's pronouns, chosen name, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
Healthcare facilities may also carry out training to provide best-practice nursing care for LGBTQ+ patients, which sets a precedent for inclusivity within the facility. By creating an inclusive space for LGBTQ+ patients, healthcare facilities show respect for all LGBTQ+ people, including nurses.
6. Be an Advocate in the Community
Healthcare staff can support LGBTQ+ nurses by becoming LGBTQ+ allies in the community. Sylvia suggests becoming educated about LGBTQ+ rights, laws, and advocacy groups in your area.
It is essential to acknowledge LGBTQ+ folks and integrate their experiences into our healthcare advocacy work. All healthcare providers need to integrate gender-affirming care into their healthcare justice advocacy involvement.
You can volunteer your time by finding your local LGBT center and becoming an advocate in the community. Also, show your support during Pride 2022 by participating in events in your city or donating.
Sylvia says nurse leaders can support LGBTQ+ nurses within the workplace by creating visibility. She suggests creating bulletin boards, written education, and signs to help educate staff about ways to support LGBTQ+ nurses.
Healthcare settings are constantly changing, and so is the conversation on gender and sexual equality in nursing. Allowing nurses to be themselves is one of the most useful methods of empowering team members to thrive in their careers.
You can become aware, educated, and conscious to create an inclusive workplace for your LGBTQ+ nurse colleagues.
Meet Our Contributor
KT Sylvia (they/she) is a registered nurse and the centralized follow-up nurse coordinator at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC. They do follow-up care for gender affirmation, abortion, sexually transmitted infections, and many more reproductive and primary care health services. Sylvia previously worked as an emergency nurse at a level one trauma hospital and received a bachelor of science in nursing from James Madison University.
Page last reviewed May 17, 2022
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