Fostering Safe Spaces

“One of my employees is out at work but not at home. I need to be a safe space for them.”

One of the points that elicited the strongest emotional response from the small businesses we talked to was the fact that they felt strongly about being a safe space for clientele and employees. Even in communities known for their LGBT inclusion generally, offering an inclusive environment was seen as an important mission for a number of the small businesses. 

For the clientele and customers, that was achieved by both reputation and by explicit language. Welcoming collateral that were prominently displayed and events that celebrated diversity while remaining inclusive to all served as strong, and inexpensive ways, to send a strong message to the entire community of their location’s inclusive environment. 

That environment is only inclusive if employees live by the same standards. While unconscious bias and other trainings were pursued amongst even the smallest of businesses, fostering an inclusive environment amongst staff was seen as the foundation for organizational strength and customer experience.  

But doing so did more than just train the employee for their work, it often meant that work may have been a rare space for the employees to feel at ease. We heard a few companies say that they had employees who were “out” at work, but not at home. For those few companies, their conviction was heightened when they understood there were team members who could only be their true selves in the workplace.  

In our previous work, we heard from large companies about the challenges of recalcitrant employees, and how challenging it could be to adjust that employee’s attitude or remove them from their position. But for the small businesses we talked to, that option was much more at the ready. At small companies, a single active anti-inclusionary employee is everyone’s problem and leadership usually responded accordingly.  

In a world recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, creating an inclusive culture as a safe space for employees and consumers will be much more difficult. Without the physical proximity to bring people together, companies, at least in the short term, will have to rely on virtual togetherness to maintain their culture. Small businesses we talked to were optimistic they could continue, even if there were concerns over the tactics to do and the bandwidth of employees to engage in workplace culture in a work from home setting.