Actions companies can take with real material benefits for LGBTQ+ Employees.
by Lily Cichanowicz
Every June, LinkedIn turns rainbow, with brands from Nike to Lyft and AirBnB adding filters over their logos to reflect the aesthetics of Pride Month. It takes relatively little to posture your company’s outward facing appearance in line with trends towards inclusivity and equity, but these attempts can ring hollow without concrete actions to back them up.
That said, many major corporations have taken steps to move past these PR gestures by putting pressure on governments to expand legal protections of LGBTQ+ people, and investing resources into making more inclusive business decisions. Even so, it can be difficult to determine the impact of these gestures when, as of late last year, 45.5% of LGBT workers “reported experiencing unfair treatment at work, including being fired, not hired, or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” If you find yourself facing this conundrum, this guide is full of tangible ways to support LGBTQ+ employees across their working lives.
The first step is to look around you. What is the demographic makeup of your organization? You may notice that there is a lack of representation of LGBTQ+ people to begin with, or that their presence is particularly sparse within management positions. These issues start at the beginning of the recruitment funnel, as Stonewall found that about 1 in 5 LGBTQ people reported being discriminated against while jobseeking.
To overcome exclusion in the arena of talent acquisition, you will need to be proactive by recruiting LGBTQ+ people outside of your network. According to Beck Bailey, the director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, “there are many local organizations that have either job fairs or community job boards, or you might try to engage directly with local colleges or universities, most of which have an LGBTQ center.” Some groups that he recommends getting in touch with include Campus Pride, LGBT Connect, and Pink Jobs LGBT.
That in mind, it’s not enough to simply practice positive discrimination in your hiring practices. As Panalyt notes, “Companies need to shift from the concept of quotas/preferential selection for people from diverse backgrounds and instead focus on identifying and removing biases in all their people decisions across the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to promotion to termination decisions.” Instead, set clear metrics through which you judge potential candidates across the recruitment cycle. Use data to track how far people of different backgrounds make it through the interview process so you can identify where there might be room for more inclusivity.
Beyond recruiting LGBTQ+ people to join your company, employee retention is arguably even more important in terms of business costs and as a metric of inclusivity. According to a BCG report, employees who experience negative interactions with colleagues at work due to their identities are 40% less productive and 13 times more likely to quit their jobs. Sadly, it is all too commonly the case that those who identify as LGBTQ+ don’t feel safe coming out at work or bringing their full selves to work.
The next step to creating a welcoming and supportive environment for marginalized employees is to take the pulse of your organization. It is crucial that you gain an honest snapshot of where things are currently at so that you can define pain points, objectives, and KPIs to measure the impact of your initiatives. The people analytics data that you gather in this step is vital for guiding your actions in a way that is genuinely LGBTQ+ focused on centering the real concerns of your employees rather than going with a top-down, outward facing approach.
That said, this data should also be expanded upon with a qualitative approach. Dive deeper than mere demographic correlations by conducting focus group interviews and appointing well-respected LGBTQ+ employees that can act as liaisons in advocating for these issues. Be sure that you are compensating these individuals accordingly for their added workload, however. LinkedIn, for example, pays the heads of their affinity groups $10,000 a year for the extra work.
Ultimately, any actions you take should not add to the existing burden that LGBTQ+ people face in the workplace on a daily basis. They can provide critical insight into their experiences and pain points, but it is the privileged majority that needs to do the leg work. While creating a code of conduct and establishing clear guidelines around the use of gender inclusive language are important, to ensure your employees follow these rules for the right reasons, education is paramount. Research shows that corporate learning and development – especially through design thinking and technology – can promote empathy for other perspectives.
The key to developing educational materials that are genuinely effective is that they must be as engaging and accessible as possible. As Blinkist’s Head of Culture and Community, Mertcan Uzun has said, “privileged people are often lazy. You have to make it as easy as possible for them, but they should also know that it’s ultimately their job to educate themselves.” That is why Blinkist mobilized its own L&D tool to develop self-directed learning modules about the LGBTQ+ experience, designed to elevate LGBTQ+ voices and to inform about the history of Pride Month. Consisting of Blinks, videos, and TedTalks, employees can easily adapt learning to their schedules, and at the end are prompted to choose an action step that fits their capacity to contribute, whether it be donating to a trusted organization or signing a petition.
There are many aspects of the LGBTQ+ experience that more privileged members of society simply don’t have to think about. In the United States, for example, there is currently a war being waged against LGBTQ+ people’s access to gender affirming healthcare, and the disparities are stark. Due to this gap in access to healthcare they are at higher risk of cancer, mental illness, addiction, and suicide.
McKinsey recommends proactively providing trans-inclusive healthcare, as a lack of access can be a major obstacle to career development. Consider which kinds of benefit packages your company currently offers, and investigate whether these cover the unique needs of queer and transgender people, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Other ways to provide structural support include offering parental leave policies that recognize family structures outside of the heteronormative mold, providing free access to mental health services, and having gender neutral bathroom facilities at the office.
If you are going to promote your brand – and profit – by aligning with the LGBTQ+ community, be sure to make financial contributions to these causes. Dedicate a portion of your revenues to supporting organizations that are doing the work to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people. There is no shortage of options when it comes to initiatives that could use financial support such as, The Trevor Project, Stonewall, or The Family Equality Council. Apple, Adidas, and Lego are just a few of the major corps currently leading the way in backing their alignment with LGBTQ+ aesthetics with real, material support.
Supporting LGBTQ+ employees should be a year-round effort, and not something that ends abruptly the minute that Pride Month is over. After all, LGBTQ+ people experience discrimination and disparities all year round. Developing a more inclusive workplace will empower your employees to do their best work, and identify themselves more closely with your company’s mission. Beyond this, it is simply the right thing to do.