by Sarah Rutledge Fischer
I recently took over office management for a small estate planning office in a medium sized city. My boss is an older, straight, white man, but he is incredibly accepting. Through word-of-mouth recommendations he has acquired a largish LGBT clientele over the years. It’s great, and I’m proud to work here.
The reason that I’m writing is this: our reception area has a very traditional feel—dark wood, leather sofas, and thick Persian rugs. I’ve noticed that some of our new LGBT clients seem uncomfortable or anxious about entering an environment that screams old-world-values. What can I do to make our office a more welcoming and supportive space?
Ally in an Old-School Office
Congratulations on your new position. It sounds like you are working in a great place, and you are determined to make it even better. Bravo!
It is interesting that you bring up decor as an aspect of what may be making your new clients uncomfortable. Traditional office decor is fairly common, especially in professions such as estate planning. On the one hand, traditional styles do a great job of communicating that the practitioner is steadfast, reliable, and trustworthy, but they can also broadcast an association with a not-so-bygone era in which non-normative gender or sexuality could put a person at great risk of harm. But fear not. Even within a traditionally decorated office, there are lots of easy ways to make sure the space feels welcoming to and supportive of your LGBT+ clientele.
The simplest way to assuage your LGBT+ clients’ fears is to display visual clues that your office is a welcoming and supportive place. If your office has a street-facing entrance, you can start welcoming your LGBT clientele before they even enter by placing a rainbow decal or an equality sticker on the door or in an adjacent window. Once your clients have entered the office, there are lots of ways to make sure your support is on display. If your office has a nondiscrimination policy, frame a copy and display it prominently. If your office does not, talk to your boss about creating one. Do you have a selection of brochures and educational materials for clients to browse? Make sure to include some that are specific to the concerns of your LGBT+ clients.
When your clients check in for their appointments, you have another opportunity to be welcoming and supportive. If you have intake forms or documentation, make sure that it accommodates a variety of gender identities and family structures. If clients ask for the bathroom, offer a gender-neutral option if possible. If that is not possible, be sure to provide each client with directions to both the men’s and women’s room so that they can select the one that best aligns with their gender identity.
In the waiting area, if you provide your clients with reading material, add a copy of your local LGBT+ magazine or publication to the mix. If your boss has been recognized by area LGBT+ organizations for his work in the community, put any awards or acknowledgments on display.
There are doubtless many other policies and practices you could implement in your office to show new clients that they are welcomed and supported, but for now, that should get you started.