“Being inclusive means remaining sensitive to differences and to the fact that our reality is not the same as the reality of the person before us. There are as many life paths as there are individuals. The idea is to try to put ourselves in a posture where we make room for realities that are different from our own,” says Pascal Vaillancourt, the General Manager of Interligne.
This is not always easy to do because everyone has cognitive biases, that is, unconscious prejudices that arise from shortcuts the brain creates based on personal experiences, influences or even from one’s own culture. Thus, it’s important to beware of them.
“We need to become aware of our own prejudices, try to put them aside, stay curious about others, respond when a situation of discrimination arises in order to support LGBTQ+ persons, and never presume a person’s gender identity despite their appearance or the way they express themselves,” says Pascal Vaillancourt.
Speak it and write it
According to Pascal Vaillancourt, “to be inclusive, you have to be proactive!” And that begins with the use of neutral vocabulary. Best to set aside gendered expressions like “madam, mister,” “girl, boy,” “mother, father” and use formulations that include everyone. For example, when greeting the members of a group (students in a classroom, colleagues in a meeting or an auditorium), saying “Hello, everyone,” or “Hey, folks” is preferable to using the expression “Hello, ladies and gentlemen.”
If you don’t know the gender identity of the person you are addressing, use their first name. According to Pascal Vaillancourt, using the word “person” is also a good approach.
He also suggests adapting your vocabulary to the preferences of the person by using their first name and the pronouns of their choosing (he/him she/her, they/them). In the same way, mentioning your own pronouns lets you show your openness. “Introducing yourself by saying ‘Hello, my name is Pascal and here are my pronouns: He/him’ flows and it’s easy. When I do that, I am sending the message that I am open and aware that there are different gender realities. It also allows the people around me, who might not feel at ease [about mentioning their pronouns], to understand that they are in an environment that is safer than they may have thought at the outset.”
He adds that “developing your interpersonal skills in your exchanges requires practice. However, you must take the time to listen to the other person, ask for explanations if needed, and show respect and empathy. This can make a big difference in building a relationship of trust.”
When mistakes happen
Everyone messes up, but if you make a mistake, “simply tell the person that you didn’t know. It’s useless to offer an intense apology,” advises Pascal Vaillancourt. “It has to stay natural otherwise everyone becomes uncomfortable.”
All the same, it is important to recognize your responsibility for your actions and to show humility and openness if someone corrects you. “We must not minimize the impact that words can have. Some words may be trivial for one person, but be very violent for another person,” he explains.
Showing understanding toward more reactive behaviour and avoiding gaslighting are other attitudes to be adopted. “If someone tells a joke and one person says they don’t think it was funny, it might be because that person has just been subjected to a micro-aggression. Answering that: ‘Oh come on, it’s just a joke,’ is dismissive and transfers guilt to that person. A sense of humour has its limits. When we are talking about a person’s identity, it’s not something we should joke about,” says Pascal Vaillancourt.
Other attitudes should also be avoided, for example:
- Making a person feel that they are making things up, exaggerating, or twisting words
- Telling a person to change their tone, because in fact, this may be concealing an emotion
- Making a person feel guilty for who they are and for asking for respect
Share the weight of change
An organization that wants to undertake a process of inclusion in the workplace must ensure that everyone feels they are involved and pitches in. “We often tend to turn toward people who live a different reality to help us change our work setting, but they might not feel they want to. Instead of setting them aside, we can explain our process and ask them which role they would like to play, or to what extent they wish to be involved,” explains Pascal Vaillancourt.
Getting informed, educating oneself and turning to LGBTQ+ organizations that provide information or awareness-raising programs, rather than always asking the same people to answer our questions is another way of sharing the weight of change.
Despite all the efforts put into an inclusion process, it can never be completed, according to Pascal Vaillancourt. “We can be more inclusive than we were before, but we can’t be 100% inclusive because we don’t know all the realities and because the issues evolve so quickly. Inclusion is the sun we are navigating toward. We may want to get as close as possible, but we can never touch it,” he concludes.
Interligne: more than a hotline
In addition to providing a help and information service for people affected by LGBTQ+ issues, Interligne offers a legal clinic and a variety of programs, including équifierté – Inclusion gets to work, for organizations that want to undertake a process of inclusion. The program offers a variety of services, including training and support to drive workplace change.
For more information: interligne.co