Beyond Pride Month and Into the Office: 5 Company Programs to Support LGBTQ Employees, Employee Resource Groups and Diversity in the Workplace
While many companies have an employee resource group (ERG) that organizes a Pride float and gives a presentation during the onboarding process, ERGs are often utilized too little to make actual change. According to a 2018 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study, some of the highest priority D&I initiatives for LGBTQ employees are highly underestimated by their colleagues; many of which will be highlighted in this very article. The LGBTQ ERG can act as a task force of sorts, both advocating for the needs that those outside the community may not be aware of, while getting the ball rolling on these same issues. This can be done by setting clearly defined goals, giving the employee resource group access to a budget, and allowing representatives of the LGBTQ workforce a place at the decision-making table.
Although coming out is a personal decision, a supportive work environment is essential for those who want to live their most authentic life. According to a 2016 report from The Economist, half of surveyed LGBTQ workers reported “corporate culture/values” as a reason for not being out in the workplace. A launching point for creating a more inclusive corporate culture is a strong LGBTQ anti-discrimination policy. Without one, there is no weight behind promoting LGBTQ diversity in the workplace. Next steps are employee benefits, such as healthcare and parental leave, to trans* employees and LGBTQ couples, as well as a non-binary gender classification on company forms and gender-neutral restrooms.
As society comes to increasingly embrace the LGBTQ community, the unique perspectives and abilities these workers bring when they can be their authentic selves is becoming more and more apparent. In a Forbes global survey of D&I program executives, only 39 percent of companies include sexual orientation as a part of the their diversity and inclusion efforts (as compared to 81 percent for gender, 77 percent for ethnicity/national origin and 70 percent for race/color). With talent management and diverse recruiting high on the HR priority list, the LGBTQ community remains a largely untapped resource for corporations will to put in a little extra effort. Simple first steps in this area include gender neutral language in job postings, posting on LGBTQ-specific job sites, and asking for referrals and testimony from those currently engaged in the employee resource group.
It is no secret that LGBTQ employee retention in the face of ever-present workplace discrimination is a big issue. The ProutAtWork study “Out at the Office?!” shows the number of LGBTQ employees who are out to only few or no colleagues has dropped by over 20 percent in the last decade, yet the reported instances of discrimination have hardly changed. And according to the Human Rights Campaign’s study of the LGBTQ experience in the workplace, 1 in 5 have searched for a different job and 1 in 10 have left a company due to an unfriendly environment for LGBTQ people. A mandatory sensitivity training during the onboarding process is a good start, but not proving to be enough, as a top priority across the LGBTQ community is simply to have a bias- and discrimination-free day-to-day workplace experience. This is where the implementation of regular, formal LGBTQ trainings for employees at all levels can really help to shape an LGBTQ-inclusive workplace.
The obstacles to diversity and inclusion are quite present for many LGBTQ employees. When LGBTQ respondents were asked (in the previously mentioned BCG survey) where they see the biggest workplace challenges, a feeling of being left behind was clear- from obstacles in recruitment and leadership commitment (37%) to retention and advancement (35% and 33%, respectively). Although 96% of companies have a diversity program in some form, only 21-28% of LGBTQ workers feel they have personally benefited from these efforts. Our solution: mentoring. Mentoring can not only help pass on leadership and career skills to a company’s new generations, but also allow LGBTQ employees and allies to be directly engaged in the conversation about inclusivity and diversity in the workplace.