Networking is integral to every business. You use networking, in part, to find new clients, which is imperative to sustaining cash flow. But how do we as business professionals encourage inclusive practices as we network and connect with people in our community who identify under the rainbow of LGBTQ identities?

The LGBTQ community is becoming a larger visible proportion of the population as levels of acceptance increase. Columbia is especially known as being a community that values inclusion and diversity. As a business owner in the Columbia area, the chances of working with at least one person who identifies as LGBTQ is high. Being knowledgeable in how to network in a way that promotes diversity helps us all to avoid those awkward moments where we accidentally offend someone. Here are some tips to help you avoid those instances!

Introduce Yourself and Your Preferred Pronouns

One of the best and simplest inclusive practices anyone can follow is to introduce themselves with their preferred pronouns. Simply say, “Hi, my name is _____ and I use she/her pronouns.” This goes a long way in making people feel comfortable around you because it opens up the door for the other person to state their pronouns.

If doing this in every encounter is too intimidating, try practicing it a little bit at a time or keep it in your back pocket as a tool to use when meeting someone who is gender-expansive. People who are gender-expansive express or identify themselves in ways that broaden traditional culturally defined behavior or expression associated with one gender.

While there is a chance someone will be confused or possibly even offended when you include your pronouns in your introduction, the likelihood of this is low. Any negative reaction would also be outweighed by the benefit it has for transgender and non-binary people. As a non-binary person myself, I know it is a weight off my shoulders every time I’m given space to state my pronouns without having to begin the conversation.

If you’re unsure of someone’s preferred pronouns and were not able to or were uncomfortable with asking for them when referring to the person, err on the side of using their name as opposed to using pronouns. While it can be awkward to repeat someone’s name, it’s the best way to avoid harming someone.

Use Gender-Neutral Language

Another practice is to be sure you’re using gender-neutral language when inquiring about a person’s personal life. Instead of asking about a husband or wife, for example, ask about a spouse or a partner. This gives room for someone to talk about their significant other without assumption of gender.

While there are considerations to make about networking in regards to the LGBTQ community, the fundamental truth is that we’re just like anybody else. We have families and communities and simply desire to have our lives seen and recognized by those we come in contact with. These simple steps will help prevent awkward encounters and generate more inclusive environments for people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation

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