Today’s workforce is as diverse as it’s ever been, and many companies are looking for ways to demonstrate that they’re supportive of their LGBTQ+ employees. There are so many benefits to doing this, from establishing a safe and productive workplace to attracting and retaining talent. In order to create an inclusive workplace, management must be trained on how to remain sensitive to the diverse experiences of their employees.
But they must also implement policies that support inclusion and prevent discrimination, ignorance, bias, and harm that can happen to LGBTQ+ people at work.
LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer-identifying people. This is an umbrella term that applies to anyone who doesn’t conform to the traditional norms of gender and sexuality. It can also include other expressions and identities like gender nonbinary people and pansexuality.
Why Workplace Inclusion for LGBTQ+ Workers Is a Must
In 2022, 7.1% of American adults are reporting that they identify as LGBTQ+. This is up from 5.6% in 2020 and is reflective of an increasing acceptance of queer experiences as well as younger generations who are developing new language to describe the spectrum of gender and sexual experience. One in five Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ+—that’s more than millennials, and much more than baby boomers.
Unfortunately, workplace toxicity can arise without intention. Often, harm happens when the person causing the harm is completely unaware of it. And the CDC has reported that LGBTQ+ people who experience rejection or discrimination are 6x more likely to experience depression and 8x more likely to attempt suicide. This makes homophobia a public health issue. And because discrimination often occurs at work, it’s also a workplace issue.
Creating an inclusive workplace culture is good for the mental health of your employees. In 2020, an LGBT Diversity report showed that stress and mental health issues that develop as a result of workers having to hide their identity or choose between enduring discrimination and supporting their families cost the U.S. $9 billion annually.
Putting policies in place to deal with discrimination also takes the burden off of LGBTQ+ workers to educate team members or senior leaders about how not to cause harm. Without these policies, LGBTQ+ workers will become burnt out from performing unpaid emotional labor and engagement will suffer.
Inclusion Leads to a More Productive, Profitable Company
Stress and anxiety don’t just disrupt the personal lives and health of the people suffering discrimination, it leads to absenteeism, and presenteeism, and takes a toll on productivity and performance. This is bad for a company’s bottom line.
Failing to put training and nondiscrimination policies in order can lead to a PR nightmare. It’s common for workers to publicize companies who discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees, and this often costs companies profit as customers and partnerships disappear. LGBTQ+ consumers understand their power as a consumer to effect change, and 23% of LGBTQ+ people have said they’ve switched to companies that are supportive of their community.
How to Make Your Workplace Inclusive for LGBTQ+ Employees
Cultivating an inclusive company culture is a combination of proper policies and protocol followed up by leadership that means what they say. Let’s go over some actionable ways that you can make your company more inclusive.
Audit Your Nondiscrimination Policies
Adopt nondiscrimination policies that specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2020, the Supreme Court case, Bostock v. Clayton County established that it’s illegal to discriminate against transgender and gay people at work. It’s against the law to fire or harass workers because of gender identity or sexual orientation. LGBTQ+ workers also have a right to be treated with respect and to have access to adequate restrooms.
However, American workers know that even with laws in place, discrimination still happens all the time. Having a clear nondiscrimination policy will show prospective LGBTQ+ employees that you’re aware that it happens in the workplace and that your company won’t tolerate it.
In addition to policies, implement a clear procedure for complaints about workplace harassment and discrimination and communicate it clearly to your team. This will make your team feel valued and protected.
Offer Equal Spousal and Partner Benefits
Even though gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, discrimination laws, as well as domestic partnership benefit laws, vary from state to state. Make sure that your company policies recognize domestic partnerships even though marriage is legal for all people. Some workers may choose to remain in domestic partnerships, an arrangement where a couple lives together but remains unmarried. They still need access to legal rights like life insurance, bereavement leave, health insurance, sick leave, and parental leave.
The Human Rights Campaign recommends that companies continue to offer the same benefits to domestic partnerships in solidarity with all kinds of families. This is because requiring an employee to obtain a public marriage license in order to receive benefits might be outing them, and putting them and their families at risk for discrimination in their state. Outing your employees could affect their credit or ability to secure housing.
Offer Transgender-Inclusive Health Insurance Coverage
Health insurance plans tend to discriminate against transgender people. You can support trans employees by offering inclusive health insurance to them. Coverage is often denied related to sex affirmation or reassignment. But simply being trans can also act as a barrier to non-gender-related care.
Perform an audit of your health insurance plan to determine whether it is inclusive of transgender employees using the steps detailed by the Human Rights Campaign here. After you audit your current contract, remove discriminatory exclusions and include trans-inclusive coverage. But don’t forget the last step: distribute clear information about what has been changed, added, and why so that all of your employees understand the new benefits available to them.
Formally Train Your Team About Diversity
Education is the ultimate antidote to ignorance. It’s an effective strategy for minimizing harm in the workplace. Partner with outside resources that provide preventative mental health training and inclusivity training. Make sure that training is ongoing and fully inclusive of the LGBTQ+ experience.
Training resources will help non-LGBTQ+ team members understand the major issues that can manifest at work, how to prevent them, and will support everyone in dealing with stressful work situations, including but not limited to workplace discrimination.
It Starts With Leadership
Leadership sets the tone for workplace culture. It is the actions, behaviors, and words of senior management that tell employees whether they are safe or unsafe at work. Policies alone can’t do this, and data shows us that again and again, even companies that adopt robust inclusive policies can cultivate a workplace that is dysfunctional and non-inclusive.
Leadership must be trained to understand the nuances of the LGBTQ+ experience. They should know how to look for potential problems they might encounter at work. They should understand that discrimination can happen even when the intent isn’t there, and that bias is something that needs to be unlearned.
It’s up to senior leaders to set the tone for the rest of the team on whether or not LGBTQ+ workers are welcome, safe, and celebrated.