I founded Babysitters Of Boulder with a simple purpose: to connect busy parents with trustworthy childcare providers. Early on, I was unaware of the challenges that would arise in matters of inclusivity. It was only when confronted with discrimination that I began to grasp the complexities. I came to realize that I had the authority to set the expectation for respectful treatment of my staff and my clients.
There have been positive moments of profound warmth and fulfillment when I could affirm and uplift someone, creating a supportive environment. These moments remind me of the power we each possess to impact others and foster a sense of belonging. Alongside this, I’ve had experiences that opened my eyes to the pain and unjust treatment endured by LGBTQ+ people.
In one phone call, a new customer explicitly asked me not to match her family with any gay babysitters. I was surprised that the parent behaved as though we shared an understanding. I wondered why the parent thought a business owner would know the sexual orientation of their employees. The parent seemed shocked when I declined to fulfill her request and informed her that we would be unable to work with her. As it turned out, she believed that she had the right to decline any babysitter based on her own personal criteria. Through experiences like these, I learned to discern the difference between a customer’s rights and the conduct required from customers who choose to engage with a business.
I am heterosexual and Caucasian. Owning this agency has revealed to me the broad social acceptance that comes along with these two identities, which I did not choose. I always attributed my success as a childcare provider to my dedication and my expertise. After founding my business, I began to understand that being a woman inadvertently contributed to my success as well, because parents more readily accepted and trusted me as their sitter or nanny. Realizations like these motivated me to fortify the inclusive framework of my business. These are 6 things I’ve learned and developed that may help your business, too:
1. Take charge of your education as the business owner. I was a teen in the early 2000s when calling someone gay was a popular insult. Ubiquitous jokes about girls kissing and jello wrestling sent the message that pretending to be a lesbian was the only acceptable form of same-sex contact. Movies and TV shows depicting gay characters often focused on “coming out of the closet,” and explored little else about the character. Although I never thought there was anything wrong with being gay, I also didn’t have any gay friends and I didn’t feel like I knew how to relate to LGBTQ+ people.
During a new hire orientation that included an LGBTQ+ person, I realized that my thoughts were hyper-focused on their gender identity. I had unintentionally fallen into only seeing LGBTQ+ people as a group in need of my protection and affirmation, rather than getting to know someone as a multifaceted individual with their own agency and interests. In our efforts to support LGBTQ+ dignity, let us remember that it is not about “saving” anyone.
Here are some things that helped me develop a more complete perspective:
There is no substitute for engaging in real conversations with people, too. That said, your staff and your clients are not responsible for educating you or telling you what you might be doing wrong. For in-person resources:
- Your local LGBTQ+ resource centers, like ours at Out Boulder County or these support organizations in Colorado, can help you foster connections and find events to attend.
- You can contact Out & Equal, an organization working exclusively on LGBTQ+ workplace equality. Out & Equal offers live zoom engagement groups! They also have great toolkits and training resources.
2. Posting the rainbow pride flag at your business is a great visual, and it’s just the start. I have to acknowledge that my initial decision to post the rainbow pride flag to my website was a reaction to a customer email. The customer asked to see headshots of potential babysitters so that she could assess if they were “biologically” women or transgender women. This customer only wanted to work with “biologically female babysitters” and not babysitters “who feel that they are female.” I felt insulted by the customer’s assumption that all women share a common appearance that’s identifiable in one photo. I was hurt by her disregard for qualified, caring childcare providers based solely on their gender identity. Finally, I was disturbed by the customer’s focus on the anatomy of my team members All of this anger compelled me to post the bright bold flag visual, indicating that I won’t entertain such toxic behavior. Then, I began to learn more about what posting the rainbow pride flag means for your business.
Displaying this flag on your website can help you to engage customers & applicants who share your inclusive values. When you publicly declare that your business supports and welcomes LGBTQ+ people, you need to:
- Have a written anti-discrimination policy in place. A contract attorney and an employment attorney can help you.
- Make the policy explicit in your new client registration form or handbook, your staff application, and during new team member orientation.
- Periodically reintroduce customers and staff to your company’s values.
- Give customers and staff a way to make a report to you if they believe that they have experienced discrimination.
- Promptly address any report, using HR best practices. If your small business does not have an HR department, one effective solution is to contract an HR consultant to provide guidance and teach you how to navigate such situations. Their expertise will help you understand the correct procedures and ensure that you address reports of discrimination in a timely and lawful manner.
- In addition to having an anti-discrimination policy included in your user terms of service, communicate your values through a Diversity & Inclusion Statement or D&I statement on your website. You can learn how to draft one by using the resources here. My website publicly posts our values here.
3. Connect with an employment attorney in your state now before you need them. Questions of discrimination will unexpectedly arise and you will need expert advice with a quick turnaround time. You want legal counsel with expertise on federal laws and your state’s laws. Depending on your industry and state, there may be cases in which an employer or a customer is permitted to take gender into consideration. A legal firm will typically notify you if a law is changing. Don’t leave questions of discrimination to Google or your friends.
An attorney can help you draft an anti-discrimination policy for your customers and your employee handbook. The policy should include a clear explanation of the consequences for violating the policy, and outline the actions that may result in termination of a customer or an employee. If your business operates with reservations or bookings, it is important to specify the payment due if a customer violates your policy and is subsequently terminated. This may help you to dismiss a customer when necessary without harming your revenue or your employees’ income.
4. Prepare to walk away from some potential revenue as the business owner. At some point you may be asked to discriminate against someone and saying no will mean walking away from money. I’m not talking about a few minor transactions. You may have to turn down a lucrative contract worth thousands of dollars, or turn down money that could have covered your mortgage for quite a while. Staying true to your values is the right choice even though it’s financially painful. In time you will recoup that money by attracting customers who share your values.
5. Find your healthy way to say no to discrimination and move on. Early on, encountering discriminatory requests from customers stirred up so much anger and sadness in me. I contemplated giving up on my business altogether. I had to come up with simple, firm ways to say no and move on, focused on the positive aspects of my business. My older sister helped me a lot with this. Now, I even use ChatGPT for help! I had ChatGPT create an email template for notifying someone when they have violated our anti-discrimination policy.
You may receive calls from customers who seem to be ambiguously asking you to do something discriminatory, using language such as, “I think you know what I mean.” In these situations I always ask the customer to clarify what they mean. That way I am not jumping to a conclusion, and I am not giving the customer a pass on an attempt to make a veiled discriminatory request.
It is essential to remain firm in the face of discriminatory requests, even when customers attempt to offer justifications such as, “I was just raised differently than you,” or, “It’s not me, it’s just that my kids haven’t met a [insert label] person before and my kids will feel uncomfortable.” While it may be tempting to empathize with their perspective or give them the benefit of the doubt, discrimination has no place in your business.
6. Use gender-neutral language in your company documents, and think about it in your workplace conversations. Many of us tend to refer to things using gendered terms because gender norms are embedded in our language. For instance, you might have reflexively said, “There goes the fireman!” when your baby pointed to a firetruck driving by. I have asked a child if their mom helped them bake the cupcakes. I have asked a child if their dad built their playhouse. It’s easy to reflexively apply gender to objects, activities, jobs, and even pets. Notice this habit because it may affect your business communications and work relationships.
Especially in my field of childcare, it’s common to think of parents as “mom and dad.” This isn’t right even if a child doesn’t have LGBTQ+ parents, because a child could have a single parent or be under the custody of a grandparent, other relative, a godparent, or a family friend. It’s common to assume that babysitters, nannies, teachers, and daycare workers will be women and to use the pronouns “she/her/hers” reflexively.
Here are some ideas to incorporate gender-neutral language:
- Review your customer forms and documents. Replace gender-specific or relationship-specific terms with neutral terms such as customer, user, or guest.
- Review your candidate application and your employee handbook. Remove terms such “he or she,” and use terms such as team member or staff member.
- Look for ways that documents reenforce gender stereotypes. For example, a policy states, “Female team members cannot wear nail polish or acrylic nails at work.” Replace this with, “Wearing acrylic nails or nail polish during a shift is not permitted.” A policy states, “Female team members may not wear perfume or strongly scented lotions.” Replace this with, “Team members are not permitted to wear perfume, cologne, or strongly scented body products including lotions and hair products.”
- If your dress code policy only dictates the length of skirts or shorts for your female employees, you can reword this policy into a dress code that applies to everyone regardless of gender.
- Use technology to invite clients and team members to share their identities. Example: our online client registration form allows clients to select their child’s gender as male, female, transgender female, transgender male, nonbinary, don’t prefer to say. Clients can select more than one option, too. Our staff application has the same options.
My experience as the founder of Babysitters Of Boulder has revealed the unexpected nature of discriminatory behavior, and the need for more than just a personal belief in LGBTQ+ equality. As business owners we need practical knowledge, protocols, and well-defined written policies to apply in our operations. It is crucial to have proper HR resources and legal counsel, enabling us to respond swiftly and appropriately to instances of discrimination. Discriminatory behavior can catch you off guard and shock you. It can confuse you when it manifests in nuanced ways rather than presenting in black-and-white. We must share our experiences with our community of business owners because sharing it will enhance everyone’s knowledge and readiness.
The LGBTQ+ rainbow pride flag icon graces every page of my website. Today, I more clearly understand the significance behind posting that symbol. I am confident that I have the business measures in place to safeguard its meaning. I hope that the tools and ideas shared in this article prove beneficial to you, as they have been for me.
Owner & Founder, Babysitters Of Boulder