This article was contributed by Luciana Paulise and originally appeared on Forbes.
While COVID-19 has helped increase awareness of diversity, equality, and inclusion, challenges persist for LGBTQ+ employees (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual identities). How can companies create a positive and safe working environment for all employees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression?
There are many awareness periods to help stop the discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. For example, May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia; May 19, Agender Pride Day; May 22, Harvey Milk Day; and in June, Americans celebrate Pride Month.
Even though people with different experiences, cultures, and knowledge are the fuel that can make a company increase innovation and growth, companies seem to be falling short in creating a safe environment for all. McKinsey Research shows that three in 20 LGBTQ+ women believe that their sexual orientation will negatively affect their career advancement at work. For LGBTQ+ men, this number is even higher, at six in 20.
How is this lack of inclusion affecting employees?
Companies can say they are diverse or inclusive, but if employees don’t feel that way, both the company and employee are impacted. Companies are missing out on hiring a portion of talent, and those communities don’t have the same career development opportunities. The McKinsey research shows that:
LGBTQ+ employees experience “onliness.” That is, being the only one on a team or in a meeting with their given gender identity, sexual orientation, or race, which increases stress and creates more pressure to perform. LGBTQ+ women of color are eight times more likely than straight white men to report onliness.
LGBTQ+ women, especially those who are bisexual, also experience more micro-aggressions, like hearing demeaning remarks.
They feel as though they need to provide more evidence of their competence.
LGBTQ+ women are also more than twice as likely as straight women to feel as though they cannot talk about themselves or their lives outside work.
LGBTQ+ employees that don’t feel safe enough at work won’t self-identify, making them feel less happy with their careers and more prone to change jobs.
Glassdoor company ratings by LGBTQ+ employees
Glassdoor data shows that LGBTQ+ employees are less satisfied at work compared to their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. LGBTQ+ employees gave their companies an average overall company rating of 3.27 stars out of 5 — that’s below the average overall rating for non-LGBTQ+ employees (3.47).
Scott Dobroski, VP of Corporate Communications and a member of Glassdoor’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group, says, “While many companies will turn their logos and social profiles to rainbows for Pride Month, creating a more equitable company is more than just symbolic or superficial moves. It’s about action. Company leaders should take time to solicit feedback from their LGBTQ+ employees to better understand what’s working well and what needs improvement to further support their workers.”
How to create a supportive environment
Companies of all sizes should create and sustain an inclusive and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ employees.
Lin Cherry, Chief Legal Officer and head of diversity and inclusion at Wizeline, a software development and design services company with 1,100 employees, said in an interview with Forbes that “Companies need to take responsibility for diversity and inclusion. Corporations have such an important role in moving public opinion; laws are not enough. If people don’t self-identify, they are not living their life to the fullest.”
She recommends that companies demonstrate their support for the community visibly. It is not easy for all companies to create an authentic, inclusive culture. Wizeline, for example, had a very diverse employee base from the beginning, given that the founder, Bismarck Lepe, was a minority himself — a son of immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico.
Bismarck created Wizeline in Guadalajara. He knew that talent was everywhere, so he decided to create more opportunities by building Wizeline Academy, which offers free education to fill in some of the talent gaps and help develop the community.
Lin Cherry added that they also have ERGs, or employee resource groups, that organize LGBTQ+ open talks such as “my journey as a gay man in tech,” or “happy to be me, a transgender woman.” They “spark other Wizeliners to feel open about telling their story and promote self-identification.”
Cherry highlighted the importance of instilling inclusivity into the recruiting process, as sometimes people don’t even take a job when they feel that the company is not inclusive or safe. Having a recruitment handbook can help recruiters provide an inclusive experience for all candidates.
A concrete action plan to create a meaningful impact
Companies can start making a difference by following these seven recommendations.
Create structural support for trans employees. This includes making health coverage inclusive of trans people, supporting leave for transitioning colleagues, including bathrooms with all-gender options, allowing changes to documents and records, and ensuring that HR systems are inclusive of all employees’ genders and pronouns.
Provide training to all employees to prevent and address micro-aggressions and demeaning behavior, encourage a pronoun-friendly culture, and create reporting channels to investigate and correct inappropriate behavior.
Consider diversity throughout the entire employee experience, from hiring to developing and departing. Surveys and pulses can help provide information about how employees feel, or why employees are either choosing the company or leaving. Training recruiters by providing booklets and implementing blind resume screenings (removing names and gender signifiers) can also help reduce unconscious bias during hiring.
Help in development, providing sponsors to support career progression and individual coaching sessions.
Create an LGBTQ+ ERG (employee resource group). ERGs bring people together to learn about each other and promote respect for everyone, no matter what. They create a safe space and organize activities (such as films or talks) that are open to everyone, not just people of the community, to learn from and support each other.
Promote inclusivity in remote-working environments. Working from home and videoconferencing can expose more minority communities because others can see their personal lives and make them feel more isolated. Leaders and team members should help by offering more frequent one-on-one sessions to see how they are doing, making sure everyone participates in meetings, and being more aware of personal needs.
Get certified by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign). Launched in 2002, the HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index has become a roadmap and benchmarking tool for U.S. businesses in the evolving field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer equality in the workplace.
Building a we culture, one that is psychologically safe for LGBTQ+ and other minorities so that they feel okay to be themselves, should be a priority for companies to get access to a bigger talent pool, get the best out of their people, and retain and engage them in the long term.