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Blog: Building an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace

Building an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace
(or 10 ways to fly the Pride flag year-round)

From Alan Turing to Megan Smith, former chief technology officer of the United States, and beyond, LGBTQ+ technologists have made vast strides in helping drive the technology industry forward. A few years ago, data suggested that, in major tech hubs such as San Francisco and Seattle, the LGBTQI+ population is 2-3 times that of the national average. Research shows that diverse leadership makes companies more innovative (critical in tech) and can deliver higher revenues.

Academic estimates have found that 5.1% of U.S. women identify as LGBTQ+ as do 3.9% of U.S. men. Their representation in corporate America, however, is much lower than these levels.[i] Despite visible corporate support (such as sponsoring Pride events), today‘s workplaces are largely falling short of full inclusion. According to McKinsey‘s Women in the Workplace research, LGBTQ+ women are more underrepresented than women generally in America‘s largest corporations. Just four openly LGBTQ+ CEOs head these corporations, only one of whom is female and none of whom is trans.[ii]

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. For LGBTQ+ women, who are workplace minorities in both gender and sexual orientation, the only experience is common—and particularly challenging—in corporate environments. LGBTQ+ women are twice as likely as women overall to report being an ’only,‘ and they‘re seven times more likely to say so than are straight white men. LGBTQ+ women of color are eight times more likely than straight white men to report onlyness.[iii]

So, how do you create a workplace culture that attracts and retains members of the LGBTQ+ community?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Educate yourself. Talk to members of the LGBTQI+ community and hear what support would most benefit them. If you have a Pride@ ERG, that's a great place to start. If you don't, here is a list of LGBTQ+ organizations that can help.
  2. Update your employee handbook to be inclusive of sexual orientation and all chosen genders and pronouns in anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
  3. Show your support. Fly the Pride flag. Celebrate Pride month with signage and images.
  4. Encourage the inclusion of preferred pronouns on email signatures and business cards and, when required, in business communications.
  5. Prevent and address microaggression and demeaning and inappropriate behavior.
  6. Encourage company-wide bias and inclusion training.
  7. Create structural support for trans and non-binary employees (such as offering health coverage that includes hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery, medical leave for transitioning colleagues, and all-gender washrooms). 
  8. Have clearly defined and communicated career pathways and mentorship opportunities.
  9. Have a family leave policy in place that treats all parents equally.
  10. Provide benefits for domestic partners.

And probably the most straightforward change of all: stop making assumptions. That goes both ways – don't assume someone is straight, and don't assume they aren't. When a female employee says, my spouse, don't assume spouse means husband. Repeatedly coming out is exhausting, and sadly one in five respondents to McKinsey‘s study had to come out multiple times a week, and one in ten said they had to come out on a daily basis.[i] According to the study, coming out is especially hard for junior employees, so don‘t make them have to keep doing it.