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Cultivating LGBTQ Inclusion in the Workplace

Work colleagues standing in office holding Pride flags

Quick look: June is Pride Month, but the impact employers can have on their LGBTQ workforce can last all year long. While globally the acceptance of this community has increased, LGBTQ employees still face many challenges on the job. Read on to explore what work is like for LGBTQ individuals and how business leaders can increase their organization’s inclusivity.

Pride Month is a time to recognize and support the rights, equality, and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But it shouldn’t be limited to just June, the efforts employers can make to foster LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace can take place all year. A staggering number of LGBTQ workers report having experienced employment bias, but luckily there are many ways small- and medium-sized business (SMB) leaders can ignite change. Let’s explore what work is like for LGBTQ employees and key actions employers can take to make their workplaces more welcoming and empowering.

What’s it like for LGBTQ employees?

Over the past two decades, there has been an increasing acceptance of homosexuality. However, there remains room for improvement, especially in the workplace.

According to a survey from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, roughly 1 in 10 LGBTQ people in the United States experienced workplace discrimination during the last year, and almost half faced employment bias at some point in their careers. This bias includes being passed over for a job, harassed at work, denied a promotion or raise, excluded from company events, denied additional hours or terminated.

Further, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) A Workplace Divided report found that:

  • 46% of LGBTQ workers are closeted at work
  • One in five LGBTQ workers have been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress more femininely or masculinely
  • 53% of LGBTQ workers hear jokes about lesbian or gay people at least occasionally
  • 31% of LGBTQ workers have felt unhappy or depressed at work
  • One-quarter of LGBTQ employees feel distracted from their tasks when working in an unwelcome environment and 20% would call out of work to avoid negativity

HRC also reports that the top reason LGBTQ workers don’t report negative comments to their supervisor or human resources (HR) department is because they don’t believe any action would be taken, and they don’t want to hurt their professional relationships.

A difficult ladder to climb

Unfortunately, career progression is more challenging for some people than others. In the United States, approximately 5% of women and 4% of men identify as LGBTQ, and they are just as likely as their straight peers to aspire to be top executives.

However, their representation in the corporate world is much lower, according to McKinsey. For example, LGBTQ women make up 2.3% of entry-level employees, but comprise only 1.6% of managers and even smaller percentages of more senior positions.

McKinsey also found that transgender people are much more likely to be in entry-level positions than cisgender people of the same age, are less likely to have management, evaluation, or hiring responsibilities, and are more likely to believe their gender or sexual orientation is a barrier to advancement.

Inclusivity benefits all

Providing an inclusive and empowering workplace for LGBTQ employees makes a major impact – and the numbers prove it.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s report, Business Success and Growth Through LGBT-Inclusive Culture, found that 76% of companies that implemented inclusive practices experienced greater employee engagement, 53% reported higher employee retention, 71% improved their company brand or reputation, and 59% expanded their job applicant pool.

5 ways to grow LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace

Change is invaluable, but it won’t happen overnight. Intentional, thoughtful action is necessary to develop a culture that enables employees to comfortably bring their whole selves to work. The following are measures SMB leaders can take to increase inclusivity. Alternatively, business leaders may also work with a professional employer organization (PEO) to accomplish these.

1. Establish a robust nondiscrimination policy

As employers develop a nondiscrimination policy, they should be sure to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected statuses. The policy should explicitly state how employees are expected to treat each other and should outline a system enabling them to anonymously file complaints. If/when complaints are filed, HR leaders should promptly investigate and see that appropriate actions are taken.

Employers can reference the LGBT inclusion toolkit from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or work with their PEO partner to develop a comprehensive policy.

2. Review corporate communications

It’s a good idea to examine your business’s internal and external communications and review them for inclusivity. It’s all too easy to unintentionally send the wrong message by using terms that may be exclusive. Some questions to ask include:

  • Do you include options for people who don’t identify in gender binary terms in your public and internal communications?
  • Do you encourage employees to include their preferred pronouns in their email signature and collaboration programs, if they wish?
  • Are your policies (like your dress code) free of gender stereotypes?
  • Do you have diverse representation on your website, social media accounts, and in internal and external marketing collateral?

3. Educate your staff

Education is key to cultivating LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace. Most of your employees want to treat their colleagues with respect but some may not be aware of the best way to do so.

Employers can teach their staff by providing access to a learning and development portal with trainings on topics like workplace diversity, unconscious bias, harassment prevention, and more. One of the best ways for people to learn is by witnessing the action of others, and it’s important to encourage team leaders to set a positive example for their teams by using respectful and inclusive words and actions.

4. Offer the right benefits

Today’s workforce is diverse, and not just any benefits package will entice talent to join and stay with your company. Many LGBTQ employees in particular face challenges that employers can address by offering the right benefits.

For example, Nationwide Retirement Institute surveyed 1,000 LGBTQ adults in the United States and found that approximately two-thirds of them live paycheck-to-paycheck, and many feel less prepared for retirement, investing, and estate planning than their straight peers. Employers can bridge this gap by offering a 401(K) retirement plan with a company match, if possible, and financial wellness training sessions.

Another impactful benefit to consider offering is family-building support. Many LGBTQ couples and individuals face challenges regarding having children, and the process can be very expensive and stressful. A supportive family-forming benefit can include:

  • Access to benefits experts, fertility clinicians, emotional counselors, and lawyers, as well as a dedicated care manager
  • Discounted rates at select fertility clinics and adoption and surrogacy agencies
  • Personalized care plans
  • Prescription ordering and at-home delivery
  • Support and educational resources for every stage of growing a family

Unfortunately, mental health issues tend to disproportionately impact the LGBTQ community. The American Psychiatric Association reports that LGBTQ individuals are 2.5 times more likely than heterosexuals to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. This makes providing a myriad of mental wellness benefits critical to supporting your LGBTQ workforce. Employers can consider offering access to an employee assistance program (EAP), meditation and mindfulness apps, telehealth care, and a private in-office wellness room.

5. Celebrate and support the LGBTQ community

Your LGBTQ workforce, and the community at large, is full of talent and aspiration – make sure you recognize that! Employees with protected statuses should be celebrated, appreciated, and promoted at the same rate as other employees.

When employees see similar colleagues in senior-level roles, it sets them up for success and helps them visualize their career progression. To support this, SMB leaders can establish a mentorship program that allows LGBTQ workers to pair with sponsors who can help them grow.

Employers can also encourage their staff to celebrate LGBTQ culture and historical contributions by sharing suggested literature, hosting interactive events that share knowledge about relevant topics like Pride Month, and more.

A helping hand when you need it

Developing a culture that welcomes, empowers, and supports LGBTQ employees is a marathon, not a sprint. It entails continually being open to growth and keeping a pulse on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) topics.

PEOs can help. Their HR professionals work with you to make your workplace inclusive and enticing for LGBTQ talent. A PEO, like ExtensisHR, can assist with:

  • Policy and compliance: HR experts are available to guide you through developing LGBTQ-friendly nondiscrimination policies, employee handbooks, and more.
  • Benefits: PEOs can provide Fortune 500-level benefits packages, including 401(K) retirement plans, mental health benefits, and family-building support.
  • Mentorship programs: A PEO can help you establish a successful mentorship program, whether your workforce is in the office, virtual, or hybrid.
  • Learning and development: PEOs may provide access to a training portal with a variety of relevant training modules, as well as assistance with developing a complete learning and development strategy.
  • DEI data: ExtensisHR’s DEI Dashboard provides actionable data on pay equity, salary trends, employee turnover, promotions, and previous hires.

Developing LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace is tremendously valuable – and we’re here to help every step of the way. Contact the experts at ExtensisHR to learn more and get started today.

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