4 Steps LGBTQ+ Employees Say Companies Can Take to Be More Inclusive

June 29, 2020

Photograph of colorful paper lanterns arranged and hung to look like Pride flag

Despite momentous leaps forward in LGBTQ+ rights over the past few decades, the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals in the workforce can range dramatically from one country — or even one company — to the next. In fact, before the recent Supreme Court ruling, more than half of all LGBTQ+ professionals in the U.S. lived in states with no formal protections against employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. 

This unequal footing had left many LGBTQ+ people unsure where they stand at work and in the job market. A recent LinkedIn survey of over 1,000 LGBTQ+ working professionals in the U.S. found that almost one in five (18%) respondents who are not out at work were concerned that coming out could cost them their job. And among those who have recently been furloughed or laid off as a result of the coronavirus, 38% were concerned that being openly LGBTQ+ would impact their job search.

On the flip side, the survey also revealed the good things that can happen when companies foster cultures of belonging and inclusion in the workplace. Among respondents who are open about being LGBTQ+ in the workplace, 52% said that coming out at work has made them feel more comfortable and authentically them. And 31% said it has helped them to build better relationships with their teams.

Every employee deserves to feel comfortable bringing their true self to work. If you’re not sure which steps will have the greatest impact at your company, here are four things the respondents said they feel employers could do to better support the LGBTQ+ community and create an inclusive work environment..

1. Create more safe spaces for LGBTQ+ employees

When companies make it easy for LGBTQ+ employees to find each other and access support when they need it, people feel less alone. Nearly half (48%) of the respondents said that it’s important for companies to create these safe spaces for their LGBTQ+ employees.

Setting up a dedicated LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG) and holding or participating in events during Pride Month are good first steps. Seeing their companies getting involved in LGBTQ+ events can help employees feel confident that, should they decide to come out at work, they’ll find acceptance and support. 

2. Implement equal opportunity hiring practices to support the LGBTQ+ community

About half (46%) of the respondents said companies could implement equal opportunity hiring practices to support the LGBTQ+ community.

This can start as early as the job post. Some companies include a statement about their commitment to diversity and inclusion and highlight any inclusive benefits they offer, like a health care package that covers same-gender partners and transgender medical care. This can signal to candidates that a company is LGBTQ+ friendly, making them more likely to apply. 

Keep in mind that references to participation in LGBTQ+ ERGs or organizations on a candidate’s application may lead to unconscious bias. Some companies have scrapped resumes in favor of other evaluation methods like predictive hiring assessments and one-way video interviews that can combat this kind of bias, giving all candidates a chance to showcase their hard and soft skills. 

3. Clearly communicate policies and protections relevant to LGBTQ+ employees

About half (46%) of respondents said their employer could create more formal protections for LGBTQ+ employees. And while the Supreme Court ruling has made it illegal for companies in the U.S. to fire individuals for being LGBTQ+, this is not the only form of protection and support that employees need. 

Unfortunately, some people go to work every day worrying about being harassed or worse because they are LGBTQ+. The survey results indicate that many companies are not doing enough to curb these anxieties and create an inclusive environment.

The #MeToo movement led many companies to reexamine their policies about sexual harassment against women. But less emphasis was placed on harassment against LGBTQ+ employees, which is shockingly prevalent. A 2019 survey of more than 1,000 LGBTQ+ people in the UK found that 68% had been sexually harassed at work, with only one-third reporting the incident to their employer. Among those who remained silent, one in four did so out of fear of being “outed” at work. 

While 91% of Fortune 500 companies already prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 83% on the basis of gender identity before the new ruling, these protections can only be fully effective if employees have a way to safely report discrimination and confidence that their employer will take the report seriously. Experts say that spelling out what will happen after a report is filed can go a long way toward encouraging employees to speak up

4. Have more education or bias training for managers and employees

Nearly half of the respondents said that education or bias training for managers (46%) and employees (45%) is a step employers could take to support the LGBTQ+ community. 

While bias training alone is often not enough to promote real change, listening and learning are critical components of creating more inclusive workplaces. ERGs can provide employees and managers the opportunity to learn about the experiences of their LGBTQ+ coworkers, creating greater understanding.

But LGBTQ+ employees should not be expected to do all the work. Resources like this employer’s toolkit and list of gender identity terms can help companies educate themselves and do better for their LGBTQ+ workers and candidates every day. To help you become a stronger ally, we’ve also made this LinkedIn Learning path on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for All available for free throughout the end of August.

Final thoughts

When people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, they can focus on doing their very best work without fear or anxiety. And although there have been major advances recently, there’s still a way to go before LGBTQ+ professionals around the world can feel that way.

Listen to the needs of your LGBTQ+ employees, ask what you could be doing better, and don’t back away from uncomfortable conversations — because it’s from these conversations that positive change is often born. 

*Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

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