LGBTQ+ Workplace Bias Upset Individual

LGBTQ+ Bias in the Workplace

6 Ways to Support LGBTQ+ Employees

On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ+ employees are protected from sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination under federal employment nondiscrimination law. Despite this landmark ruling, LGBTQ+ employees continue to experience bias and discrimination today, including limited access to job opportunities, fair compensation, advancement, and education to advance a person’s career. This discrimination can make it intimidating for LGBTQ+ employees to bring their authentic selves to work.

Heteronormativity At Work

Historically, labor systems and corporate culture were built to accommodate a heteronormative lifestyle — they were never designed for the LGBTQ+ community. For example, insurance companies still only list binary genders in their enrollment forms and employer portals; therefore, excluding trans and non-binary folks from disclosing their identity to their insurance provider to further support gender-affirming care. These non-inclusive administrative processes often leave LGBTQ+ individuals with little option but to uncomfortably conform to the dominant group’s way of being.

Imagine the fear of losing your job if someone “outed” you? Survey data collected in May 2021 by the Williams Institute showed more than half of LGBT employees did not wish to come out in the workplace, 36.4% of transgender employees changed their appearance, and 27.5% modified how often they used the bathroom at work. The fact that LGBTQ+ employees have to “come out” at all, and often repeatedly, is due to the dominant social norms of American culture reflected in an organizational context.

Belonging Gap: Your Culture May Not Be as Inclusive as You Think

Even after the Supreme Court’s ruling, LGBTQ individuals are still experiencing discrimination in the workplace. A study done in May 2021 found that:

  • 34.2% of LGBT employees said that they have left a job because of how their employer treated them based on their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • 45.5% reported experiencing unfair treatment at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity

An LGBTQ+ employee’s experience at work is just simply not the same. According to a study of nearly half a million people by Great Place to Work, LGBTQ+ employees are 7% less likely to have an emotionally and psychologically healthy work environment when compared with their straight coworkers. 

Year-Round Corporate Allyship

Every year when Pride comes around, many companies leap to brand themselves as “corporate allies” which can result in contradicting messages if the organization is not making an honest and significant contribution to the LGBTQ+ community, let alone to their employees. Pride was not built to be a capitalistic movement — it was a movement initiated by trans people to fight for liberation against police brutality. We cannot forget this when troves of rainbow-painted advertisements are launched worldwide one month out of the year, encouraging people to be who they are, then leaving them without any real support in the workplace.

Related Content: How Companies Can True-up Their LGBTQ+ Pride Allyship All Year, Every Year

6 Ways to Support LGBTQ+ Employees

Fear of being rejected by co-workers can instill fear in LGBTQ+ employees, which has the capability to limit the focus and development of an employee and their contribution to the organization. Fostering an inclusive environment supports an employee’s mental health, increases productivity, and builds engagement within the community of the business—and is simply the right thing to do.

Listen to your LGBTQ+ Employees

Learn from LGBTQ+ employees about their lived experiences in the workplace and how you can support them.

As Propeller consultant Shawn Rivera shares, Companies can start by listening and making a genuine effort to understand vs. make assumptions about how to best support their LGBTQ+ audiences.”

Recognize that many levels of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people still exist in and outside of their job roles, and how that may affect your employees when they come into the workplace.

Be a Proactive Ally 

Pay attention to the language you use around others. Words are just as impactful as actions and can shape the experience and relationship an LGBTQ+ person has with their identity in the workplace.

“Something as simple as my manager including their pronouns on Zoom and emails, or directors participating in our queer Slack channel, made it easy to bring my full self to every interaction at work without concern of prejudice or misconception based on my appearance or sexuality," share Propeller consultant Renae Roemmich.

Words are just as impactful as actions and can shape the experience and relationship an LGBTQ+ person has with their identity in the workplace.

Related Content: How to Be an Effective LGBTQ+ Ally Year-Round, Not Just During Pride Month

Elevate Diverse Voices to Leadership

Propeller Chief Growth Officer Sunil Kasturi encourages aspiring leaders, “Seek mentors who bring their authentic selves to work and who successfully mesh their personal self into their professional lives in their unique ways." 

LGBTQ+ communities uplift each other by supporting one another. This act can be impactful for both allies and LGBTQ+ leaders seeking guidance on how to bring LGBTQ+ people into C-level positions.

Related Content: Speak, Learn, and Mentor: Three Insights for LGBTQ+ Leaders & Champions in Business

Integrate DEI into Every Aspect of the Business

DEI is not a brand or isolated concept or mission. Companies miss the mark on DEI when they celebrate the venture of being “culture champions” and then disconnect the purpose of creating a workplace that is inclusive and supportive of all identities. A solution for this would be to create collaborations across departments to support various identities within an organization. Are certain identities being more celebrated than others? If so, why is that?

Propeller change management consultant Alex Barra encourages organizations to take it a step further. “If DEI is important to your company, make it elevated and make it important by creating job roles specifically to develop and grow an intersectional and equitable workforce.”

 If DEI is important to your company, make it elevated by creating roles specifically to develop and grow an intersectional and equitable workforce.

Forgo Vanity Metrics. Measure Progress Thoughtfully.

Often, DEI strategies measure success based solely on workforce diversity numbers but fail to recognize (or measure) the experience of inclusion and belonging—what individuals actually experience and feel as an employee. Measuring success with employee feedback by using the Gartner Inclusion Index is a useful tool to collect meaningful data and humanely measure inclusion progress.

As Propeller consultant Chels Watkins shares, “Organizations often publish diversity metrics, which may help them attract and retain diverse employees. But if the organization is simply reporting statistics without investing in organizational strategies to cultivate an inclusive workplace, then LGBTQ+ employees may feel as though their organization’s allyship is simply performative.”

With a thoughtful strategy and measurement in place, you can make LGBTQ+ employees feel like more than a number—but rather a celebrated, included, and valued part of the organization.

With a thoughtful strategy and measurement in place, you can make LGBTQ+ employees feel like more than a number—but rather a celebrated, included, and valued part of the organization.

Think Bigger and Take Action

How meaningful is a metric, and once a goal is met within a DEI space, what happens next? The first step of change is awareness. However, awareness of a bias alone is not enough. Simple strategies may be a good start, for example, watching for microaggressions, educating the workforce about LGBTQ+ identities, and strengthening the company pipeline and policies to support diversity.

Why stop there? What if organizations looked beyond the numbers and considered comprehensive strategies to humanize their LGBTQ+ workforce? A desire and belief in change, with clear and meaningful actions forward, are needed. A systematic approach when designing an effective solution for inclusion is to normalize the intersectional human existence and overhaul the heteronormative organizational mindset, systems, and structure.

*Contributions to this article come from a virtual roundtable discussion amongst LGBTQ+ Propeller colleagues Alex Barra, Chels Watkins, and Stefanie Loebach, as well as thoughts from Renae Roemmich, Shawn Rivera, and Sunil Kasturi.