4 Ways Companies Can Support LGBTQ+ People in the Workplace

10 minutes read

By James Tehrani

The future of the workforce is about equality and making people feel right at home whether they’re working from home or in their place of business. And that’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing as well.

A Finnish study that looked at the performance of 657 publicly traded U.S. companies between 2003 and 2016 found that organizations that were LGBTQ+ friendly saw higher profitability and higher stock market evaluations.

While Pride Month happens every June, it’s important to remember that supporting people in the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t be 30 days and done; it takes a year-round commitment.

Last year, just over 7% of Americans identified as being part of the LGBTQ+ community, which is the highest number ever recorded, according to a Gallup poll released earlier this year. 

Generational Change

And the number was much higher for Gen Zers at 1 in 5 people (20.8%). As Gallup explains, that’s likely because acceptance of gay, lesbian and transgender people is much higher than in previous generations, and there are more protections now against discrimination.

Still, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do to make a more inclusive workforce for everyone.

The 2020 McKinsey & Co. report addressing how the LGBTQ+ community fares in the workplace used a term I hadn’t seen before: “onlyness.”

It was referring to LGBTQ+ women being underrepresented in the workforce. LGBTQ+ women, according to the report, make up 2.3% of entry-level workers compared to 3.1% of LGBTQ+ men, and the disparity becomes greater with higher-ranking positions. 

The report states, “Our research shows that stress increases when a person experiences ‘onlyness,’ or being the only one on a team or in a meeting with their given gender identity, sexual orientation or race. Employees who face onlyness across multiple dimensions face even more pressure to perform.”

It’s an important point, really. While some people prefer to work alone, there aren’t many people who want to feel like they’re alone. 

Zero Tolerance for Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects employees from discrimination based on race; color; religion; sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation or gender identity); national origin; age (40 or older); disability; and genetic information, but it does not protect against isolation and “onlyness.”

That’s up to companies.

As the LGBT Hero website explains, “LGBTQ+ people are more likely to face discrimination due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, which can lead to feelings of isolation and difficulties getting close to other people.” The website also says that these feelings of loneliness can lead to mental and physical problems ranging from depression to high blood pressure and even worse.

The McKinsey report goes on to explain that LGBTQ+ women are more likely to experience sexual harassment and microagressions at work. 

But interestingly enough, only 3 in 20 LGBTQ+ women said they believe their sexual orientation would negatively affect their career advancement vs. 6 in 20 LGBTQ+ men. 

So what can you do to support LGBTQ+ members of your organization?

4 Ways to Support LGBTQ+ Workers

  1. Let’s Listen: In order to make a company that is more inclusive, not just for LGBTQ+ people but for people of different races, ages, religions, etc., listen to their concerns, listen to their ideas and just listen to them. Whether it’s recruiting, company culture or something else, give employees a forum where they can privately or publicly (depending on their preference) share their ideas, and then back them up with strong anti-dicrimination and anti-harassment policies (see “Look at the Book).  Ask employees how the company can be more inclusive and that needs to start from the top down. As Business News Daily reports, “everyone needs to feel like they are truly welcome, safe and free to be themselves in the workplace.”
  • Resources Are Great: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a great way to help employees be heard and to learn what actions can be taken to make a more inclusive workplace. Companies can recognize and help support these groups to allow their employees a safe place (virtually or in person) to meet and discuss the issues and topics that are most important to the group. For LGBTQ+ workers, the Human Rights Campaign recommends writing a mission statement focused on things like establishing mentorship programs and boosting efforts to recruit LGBTQ+ talent. It should also be open to all employees so LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ employees can meet and learn more together. The key to success often starts with having an “executive champion” supporting the group, HRC explains.
  1. Look at the Book: It has been two years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that an employer who fires a person for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Hopefully by now you have updated or already had language in your employee handbook discussing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, but, if not, it’s time to do so to ensure you are in compliance. If you need help with your employee handbook, there are experts available to help.
  • So Much More: From not making assumptions about whether someone is or isn’t a member of the LGBTQ+ community to educating your workers about the consequences of making homophobic jokes and comments and more, the Muse has a lot of great ideas on how companies and colleagues can better support members of the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace. Check it out.

Jukka Sihvonen, who is an assistant professor at Aalto University School of Business and one of the authors of the aforementioned Finnish study, told Staffing Industry Analysts: “Our empirical findings demonstrate that LGBT‐friendly corporate policies pay off, and the documented positive relationship between LGBT friendliness and firm performance can be considered economically significant.”

In other words, showing pride for all of your employees is something that will lead to results you’ll be proud of.

James Tehrani is EPAY’s digital content marketing manager. He is an award-winning writer and editor based in the Chicago area.

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