Inclusive Onboarding That Cultivates Belonging

Guest Post From Dominique Rodgers

I used to win the worst onboarding contests all the time. True story – I got to the fancy corporate office on day one 30 minutes early. I parked God knows where, walked in, and then sat in the lobby for over 2.5 hours while the receptionist struggled to reach anyone in my secure department to come get the new girl. When I eventually got to my workspace, there was ink smeared all over the desk, popcorn all over the floor and my chair was broken. My supervisor publicly made a snide remark about me finally getting to work and hours later, after she finally checked the 11 messages from the receptionist, apologized to me in private. That job didn’t last long.

Now several years and new friends and experiences later, I know my terrible onboarding was actually pretty tame – definitely not welcoming but also not terrifying. As an average cis hetero woman, I was never fearful about my safety or dignity. 

Not everyone can say that. Imagine you’re a trans woman wearing your best professional lady power suit, but your ID still says your deadname. What if you’re a gay employee and unsure if you can put your partner’s info on your benefits? What if you’re nonbinary and go into a bathroom that someone arbitrarily decides you don’t belong in? I’m not telling that popcorn story ever again; I know that.

Before You Raise That Pride Flag Outside… 

If you’re thinking this topic is a little niche and doesn’t apply to your organization, consider this: A LinkedIn survey found that nearly half of all LGBTQ+ professionals feel that being out will negatively impact their job search or has already cost them new jobs or promotions. Nearly one-third have reported being blatantly discriminated against at work and a quarter have left a job because they did not feel like they had been accepted. This “niche” topic is costing companies some great talent.

Building belonging starts before you hire a trans person. If your thinking begins from a place of, “How can we be ready and welcoming when our next new hire comes along or a current employee decides to transition?”, that’s a good first step. 

Here are a few things you might consider before touting your inclusive onboarding program. 

  • Do you have single stall or gender neutral bathrooms? It’s really as easy as adding a sign to the door and covering up the urinals. Everyone uses gender neutral bathrooms at their house. They can at work, too. 
  • Does your dress code make arbitrary gender distinctions? If women are required to wear skirts, does that mean men can if they want to? 
  • Are you asking for sex/gender/pronouns on any paperwork or in software that really doesn’t need that information? Or if you do need it, do you leave space for nonbinary or alternate terms? Do you tell people why you’re asking? 
  • Also, your harassment policy: Do you have one? How robust is it? Are you prepared to enforce and defend it even if it’s the top salesman or the owner’s asshole son being the one to create a hostile work environment? If you answered no, you don’t have a harassment policy – you have a harassment suggestion. That’s bad. Find an attorney now. If you won’t get one to help you craft the policy, you’ll need one when its absence backfires. 
  • Does your company offer an EAP? Does the plan offer guidance on mental health, gender health and legal matters? Are there any organizations in your area that offer services on a sliding scale or somehow help to defray costs your insurance doesn’t cover? One page of supplemental resources for counselors, gender affirming care, fertility support, adoption assistance, legal aid, prescription cost assistance or financial planning can easily be added to your benefits paperwork.

3 Critical Things to Get Right During Your Inclusive Onboarding Program

Some aspects of onboarding can feel boring if you do this day in and day out, and it’s a lot of information for a new hire to digest. Resist the urge to gloss over anything. Take as much time as you need. Schedule multiple meetings for different components if necessary. Put yourself in their place and imagine what they really need to know to be set up for success at your organization. Even if your organization waits until day one for most things, please email and tell your new hire about parking or public transit options before the first day. Everyone wants a safe spot to leave their car or the closest bus stop to walk from.

Make sure all new employees see the full handbook, harassment policy, all benefits information and any additional resources you offer. You can’t decide who needs to see what. Cis employees can have a partner or child who’s trans and they will need to hear about any gender-affirming care benefits. Male employees may be interested to hear about out-of-state abortion assistance. Older workers still need to be told about the egg-freezing program. Let the new hire decide what’s relevant for them.

Really want to be different? Sometimes it’s as simple as following up. It’s a lot to start a new job. Let everything sink in for a few weeks and then check in about their onboarding experience. This can be a formal meeting, but it’s just as easily done passing in the hall. “How are you doing? Do you need anything? Do you have any questions about your benefits or PTO?”

You only get one chance to welcome a new employee to the company and it’s so easy to make it average or awful. Remember, most queer folks are already dreading this day for a million reasons. Queer or not, everyone wants to feel like they’re going to an organization that needs their skills, values their efforts and accepts their whole self. While your onboarding process may have been focused on the binary and standard checklists in the past, with a few tweaks or adjustments, you can make it respectful and welcoming to your team.

Read The Other Posts In This Series:

LGBT and Diversity recruiting

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster,, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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