Building an Inclusive Workplace for your LGBTQ+ Employees

Is your company a welcoming place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) employees?

Building an Inclusive Workplace for your LGBTQ+ Employees

Is your company a welcoming place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) employees?

Last week, I reviewed research from McKinsey & Company on challenges LGBTQ+ employees face and learned that about one in four LGBTQ+ respondents are not broadly out at work. Even when companies have a long history of diversity and inclusion and policies in place, LGBTQ+ employees report substantial barriers to advancement and discrimination, with many believing that they have to outperform non-LGBTQ+ colleagues to gain recognition. 

The opposite of inclusion is not exclusion, it’s isolation 

When an organization is diverse yet not fully inclusive, it creates a sense of isolation. We are all striving to create diverse cultures with diverse representation and diverse perspectives. If you stop there and do not build inclusion into your culture, you are holding back all these individuals that you so actively hired. If LGBTQ+ employees are not accepted, if they are not welcomed, if they are not included, they will never contribute the value of their unique perspectives and business advantages.

While reading Frances Frei and Anne Morriss’ latest book, Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader's Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You, I was drawn to the concept of inclusion and “belonging” as both a moral imperative and a business imperative. People that feel accepted and included can be their genuine, authentic self and the business will benefit from that. And it is not just the underrepresented employees who benefit from inclusive spaces, all employees benefit.

“Inclusivity is having an environment where everybody can be their very best.”

Having An Inclusive Culture: 3 Things to Consider

1. Does your company have an environment where it is safe to come out? 

Too many LGBTQ+ employees report not being broadly out at work. That means fear of discrimination and an unaccepting culture are getting in the way. Perhaps there is a leader that can set an inclusive example or the cultivation of allyship to the LGBTQ+ community can accelerate inclusion and openness?

One of the benefits of coming out and being accepted is that it enables LGBTQ+ employees to form real relationships with people who know their real self, and those relationships create ties and loyalties and interactions. 

And remember that coming out is not a one-time event for LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace either. With new relationships and new interactions every day, one has to come out again and again, further reason why it is so important that you create an environment where employees can safely do so.

2. Are your LGBTQ+ benefits and advancement practices discriminating?

An inclusive culture provides inclusive benefits. According to McKinsey, only about half of Fortune 500 companies provide benefits for domestic partners, and fewer than two-thirds offer trans-inclusive healthcare coverage. So, what type of benefits does your company offer? LGBTQ+ employees also report facing hurdles qualifying for parental leave.

A question every minority asks is, “Am I being held back because I am different?” There are significant cases today where LGBTQ+ employees report barriers to advancement. Does your company report metrics on openly gay people? And are they advancing at the same rate of others?

3. Are microaggressions accepted?

For many LGBTQ+ employees, office life means navigating a series of microaggressions, such as hearing disparaging remarks about LGBTQ+ people. Personally, I too often get questions about my wife, but I have a husband. If someone does not know you are gay, you might be exposed to a conversation (or be in a conversation) where fellow employees are directly disparaging gay, lesbian or transgender people. You are not an inclusive culture if you tolerate these microaggressions, even if not directed at a specific individual.

Creating a sense of belonging 

The first step toward improving the experiences of LGBTQ+ employees is empathy and understanding their challenges. All leaders should stay connected to what it might feel like to be LGBTQ+ at work. Policies and procedures are just one part of the diversity and inclusion mix, a complementary approach is to meet with LGBTQ+ employees and understand their issues at your company.

Having resource groups for LGBTQ+ employees is also important. It is a leadership imperative to get engaged and get involved with these resource groups.  Executives who embrace this opportunity can become more effective leaders and boost the empathy, effectiveness, and productivity of their organizations. Inclusion starts at the top.

Thoughts on corporate Pride logos

And finally, some thoughts on “rainbow washing.” There is a lot of criticism against companies that turn their logos into colorful rainbow stripes for Pride month, and nothing more. I agree that a logo change is insufficient. At the same time, I see incredible value in this first step, a recognition of acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. Companies will continue to improve and display their commitment, inside and out. I have been with Pitney Bowes for 9 years, and Pitney Bowes is the first employer in my long career that adapted their logo for Pride.

To be sure, we go well beyond the logo treatment at Pitney Bowes, but it is an important public statement that sends an important message. At Pitney Bowes, we are committed to creating a culture where every LGBTQ+ employee feels welcomed, valued, respected, accepted and heard. In the last few years, the company has expanded its LGBTQ+ Council and launched an inclusion network, enhanced new-manager training to highlight bias, incorporated inclusive language into all policies and established means for LGBTQ+ employees to self-identify in the firm’s HR system. We support transgender employees in their transition. And we have been listed in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, with a score of 100%. Pitney Bowes has been named a best place to work for LGBTQ+ employees, two years in a row. We also know there is always much more to be done.