How organizations can support LGBTQ+ employees

A diverse and inclusive workplace is critical nowadays. According to a 2021 Gallup survey, 7.1% of U.S. adults self-identify as LGBT, which is more than double the percentage compared in 2012, when Gallup first started with this survey. In addition, the survey shows that LGBT identification has been rising in younger generations and has remained stable in older ones. 

While many companies are working on advancing their DEI workplace activities, LGBTQ+ professionals keep facing unique challenges that are related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Recent studies have shown: 

- 40 % of LGBTQ employees are not out at the workplace 

- 54 % of employees, who are out at the workplace, remained closeted to their clients and customers 

- 75 % reported experiencing at least one negative interaction related to their LGBTQ identity at work in the past year. 

These alarming statistics show that organizations should and must do more to create an inclusive workplace environment for their LGBTQ+ employees. So what can organizations do? Let's look at the areas where companies can improve. 

Review Policies 

Company benefits are not only important for current employees and retaining talent but play a significant role in the recruiting process and attracting new talent. To create more inclusive workplace policies, companies need to review and update their existing policies and include gender-neutral language to extend benefits and their coverage. For example, companies can use spouse or partner instead of using the terms wife and husband. The terms of mother and father can be replaced with a parent

As mentioned, benefits can be easily extended to LGBTQ+ employees by changing the policies' language. Yet, according to a recent study, only about 3 in 10 employers extended workplace benefits to same-sex couples or those who are married. 

To support LGBTQ+ employees, companies should recognize same-sex marriage and partnership. Despite the disadvantages that LGBTQ+ professionals face while starting or growing their families, only a minority of employers provide LGBTQ+ employees with benefits related to family-building options such as adoption, fertility treatments, surrogacy benefits, or parental leave regardless of whether the parent gave birth to the child or not, or time off to take care of a dependent. In addition, gendered policy language can easily exclude LGBTQ+ families. 

Use Inclusive Language

Companies must review the existing language and make necessary changes to ensure that current LGBTQ+ employees and new applicants are not excluded. Small changes in behavior or language, such as replacing gender-coded language with neutral terms, can make a big difference and significantly help LGBTQ+ individuals feel more included. Introducing pronoun preferences and having them in email signatures should also become standard practice. 

Bringing awareness and visibility, for example, by displaying a pride flag or placing a pride sticker on the front door, can be very impactful and show LGBTQ+ employees that the workplace is welcoming. However, these practices should not be led only by HR teams; other leaders and key members across the board should participate and enforce using inclusive language to create a safe space and a culture of belonging. 

Educate 

Training and educating employees is an ongoing process; therefore, training on LGBTQ+ inclusion should be up to date and available on a regular basis rather than as a one-time event. In addition, DEI practices are constantly evolving, and the company's responsibility is to reflect trends and changes in their training and educational opportunities. To learn about trends and best practices, companies can hire a DEI specialist to review training material, conduct training, and suggest any necessary changes in materials and communication tools to create a more inclusive workplace. DEI specialists can also help with ERGs. Having ERGs should be a standard part of any larger organization as they provide employees with a safe place to connect, discuss various issues, brainstorm ideas, bring visibility and promote more inclusive policies to organizations. 

Changes in materials and communication also apply to external communication. For example, companies should bring more visibility and awareness to the LGBTQ community by openly celebrating pride days and transgender awareness days and by creating or participating in events such as summits, panel discussions, networking, fundraising initiatives, mentoring programs, supplier diversity programs, etc. 

Workplace culture is critical for every organization and team, and it's growing in importance for LGBTQ+ employees. Unfortunately, despite recent progress in DEI workplace practices, most LGBTQ+ professionals still report negative experiences at work, and many LGBTQ+ individuals don't have access to the same benefits as their non-LGBTQ+ colleagues. 

Evidence shows that organizations that embrace LGBTQ+ practices outperform their competitors. Inclusive workplaces are not only attractive for diverse talent, but studies show that diversity in the workplace drives innovation, creativity, better decision-making, and business success. Therefore, it should be a top priority of every organization to create an environment that inspires everyone to bring their whole selves to work, a place where employees feel safe, respected, and where they belong.

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