LGBTQ+ workers deal with an overwhelming set of obstacles, harms, and inequities in the workplace. Not only is this ethically problematic, it’s also bad for business. Innovation and productivity are correlated with diversity, which organizations are at risk of losing if they fail to provide members of the LGBTQ+ community with the work environment and career opportunities that they deserve. Below are five actions employers can take to create a safe, inclusive, and equitable space for LGBTQ+ employees.
1. Increase LGBTQ+ representation in the workplace.
LGBTQ+ individuals are drastically underrepresented at every level of management. Not only is this unfair and unjust, but it also exacerbates all the other obstacles and harms that LGBTQ+ employees face at work. For instance, a lack of representation can increase the rate at which LGBTQ+ workers feel isolated, are uncomfortable self-identifying around their co-workers, or are subject to microaggressions and harassment. To rectify this, organizations can take several steps, such as:
- Diversifying their applicant pools by using gender neutral language in job postings and promoting inclusive benefits
- Hiring diversity-oriented talent acquisition professionals experienced in assessing and recruiting diverse candidates
- Creating a safe and welcoming work culture
2. Create a safe and welcoming work culture.
LGBTQ+ workers are often exposed to a host of challenging and harmful interactions at the workplace. Whether it involves the use of improper pronouns, microaggressions, or deliberate harassment, offices can present LGBTQ+ individuals with a stressful and dangerous space to navigate. This can discourage members of the LGBTQ+ community from joining a particular workplace thereby contributing to extant financial disparities and inequities. Workplaces can combat this by:
- Using inclusive, gender neutral language in employee handbooks and establishing pronoun guidelines
- Creating opportunities for LGBTQ+ workers to self-identify by normalizing the process of self-identification in meetings, emails, discussions, etc.
- Establishing and enforcing strict anti-discrimination policies
- Hosting talks, networking events, and discussions with community leaders
3. Expand benefits.
LGBTQ+ employees often struggle just to receive the same benefits as the rest of their co-works, let alone obtain additional medical benefits required by some LGBTQ+ individuals. In some cases, this is because gendered language in benefits packages unintentionally exclude LGBTQ+ individuals. In other cases, exclusion is the result of discriminatory laws (e.g., laws that prohibit same-sex couples from getting married). Companies can obviate these obstacles and create a more equitable benefits package by:
- Offering healthcare coverage to domestic partners
- Helping employees living in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage with additional tax benefits
- Providing coverage for medical services that are often overlooked but could be essential for some individuals in the LGBTQ+ community (e.g., gender-transition or reassignment surgeries)
4. Donate and advocate for equality.
Companies have the power not only to provide a better community for the LGBTQ+ employees that work for them but to improve the standing of the community as a whole by donating to charities that address significant challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. Important charities include:
In addition to making donations, organizations can actively and publicly advocate for LGBTQ+ equality. Employee Benefits News states in their upcoming report, The Inclusive Advantage, that “explicit and vocal support of the LGBTQ+ community has become a basic requirement to stay competitive as millennials and Generation Z have become a larger component of the workforce and an all-important customer base.” However, companies can and do go far beyond these basic forms of advocacy. For instance, IBM works to influence legislation and policy in the United States and supports marriage equality referendums in other countries. By engaging in advocacy, companies can improve the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals across the globe and demonstrate to their own employees that they are genuinely dedicated to achieving LGBTQ+ equality.
5. Ask for feedback.
Despite their best efforts, organizations may fall short of creating a wholly fair and inclusive environment for their LGBTQ+ employees. To gain a sense of where your company can improve, be sure to ask for feedback. Employers will need to be creative when it comes to the ways in which they ask for reactions to their initiatives. This is because employees may fear that being honest could result in backlash that would worsen their experiences in the workplace and further hurt their career goals. To get around this obstacle, try:
- Sending out anonymous surveys
- Facilitating honest and open lines of communication between team leaders and their employees
- Reaching out to experts in the field who can, without the fear of damaging their career goals, draw your attention to the kinds of struggles that LGBTQ+ individuals in your workplace may be dealing with