In today’s ever-changing workforce, diversity is becoming more apparent everywhere. Workplaces are now seeing more representation from members of the LGBTQIA+ community compared to working environments decades ago.
The LGBTQIA+ workforce is more racially diverse than ever before. It now includes transgender employees and individuals with more varied sexual orientations. Indeed, diversity and inclusion slowly continue to be widely accepted ideas in the modern workforce as younger people take over corporate positions.
An Evolving Workplace
Recently, 2,000 LGBTQ employees and 2,000 non-LGBTQ (straight) employees across the United States were surveyed to record their thoughts. They were asked how companies can create more inclusive workspaces. The survey’s main goal was to understand LGBTQIA+ employee’s overall experiences as they navigate daily work life and act on those insights to foster inclusion.
Survey results show that while much progress has been made from decades spent organizing new initiatives for LGBTQIA+ employees, employees still feel that more needs to be done. Think about this: At least 40% of individuals are closeted at work, while 75% report that they have experienced negative encounters at work in the past year due to their LGBTQIA+ identity.
Further, out of LGBTQIA+ employees surveyed, 28% are people of color who identify as women and are under age 35, while only 2% are 55 and older. This only shows that as younger employees enter the workforce, diversity programs will have to evolve to fit their needs and provide further equity and inclusion.
Sounds interesting? Continue reading to uncover more valuable insights from the survey results.
Employees’ daily interactions with organizational leadership, their colleagues, and direct managers are called “touchpoints.” When employees experience negative touchpoints, they are 40% less productive in their jobs and at least 13 times more likely to quit. This reveals that leaders have more work to champion culture changes for diversity and inclusion and ensure positive touchpoints throughout employees’ daily routines.
The LGBTQIA+ workforce’s evolving face means that cultural change must continue to occur while workplace practices shift. This continuous shift poses a challenge for leaders to adapt and acknowledge factors that make everyone in the LGBTQIA+ unique.
Leaders need to consider that every LGBTQIA+ employee has different life experience. Demographics (e.g., race, age, and immigration status) and life factors (e.g., religion, income, and more) mean that every employee will see life through a different set of circumstances. So what can leaders do with these pieces of information to succeed in culture change? Segment them, and use such to peek through the lens of individual experiences. This may be a novel approach, but it is crucial to be part of diversity and inclusion initiatives.
LGBTQIA+ employees are not the only ones noticing diversity policies in the workplace. As more millennials take over leadership positions and Gen-Z steps into working America, these groups are poised to care about inclusion. They will advocate for the rights of others much more than previous generations.
There are definite benefits for companies who can see this reality and are willing to work with this change. Organizations that embrace diversity will see overall improved financial performance, creativity, and innovation, a more engaged workforce, and retain their employees like never before.
Recent events have confirmed the need for an updated approach to diversity and inclusion. The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent repercussions have affected many people and their financial and health security. People who’ve been affected included women, caretakers, people of color, employees with non-traditional family structures, and many members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are a part of the workforce.
Recent demonstrations for racial equality have highlighted racial biases in and out of the workplace. These demonstrations have shown how these biases impact people of color’s health, wellness, and ability to “show up” to perform best for their jobs.
Employers should recognize the need to use current events to learn while implementing more diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Those who stay silent or remain short-sighted during these uncertain times are losing an opportunity to invest in new tools to change the culture for better inclusivity and accessibility.
A Journey Ahead
While LGBTQIA+ rights leaped dramatically ahead over the past 20 years, corporate America has been at the forefront of shaping opinions on LGBTQIA+ diversity in the workplace. Many efforts have been placed on creating Human Resources (HR) policies and benefits that assist these workers while setting up employee resource groups.
Actions like these have generated positive outcomes. Recently, 65% of companies reported that they scored perfectly on a corporate equality index in 2020. Large companies are even having greater success in how they respond to diversity.
For example, Fortune 500 companies that participated in the survey had an average score of 90%. Nearly 98% of these large companies have nondiscrimination policies, which cover both sexual orientation and gender identity. Of these companies, 91% have made public affirmations to the LGBTQIA+ community, and 88% have policies that include trans-inclusive benefits for workers.
While this progress is, in fact, entirely meaningful to LGBTQIA+ employees compared to policies held in place a generation ago, development is still ongoing. There is an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth that many LGBTQIA+ employees are still not entirely included in their workspaces.
Diversity and Inclusion
In March 2020, 2,000 LGBTQIA+ employees and 2,000 straight (non-LGBTQIA+) employees across industries were interviewed. According to them, their dissatisfaction within the workplace is palpable.
- Still, 40% of LGBTQIA+ employees are not out at work, and 26% of them wished they could be out.
- 36% of LGBTQIA+ employees have covered up parts of themselves at work in the past year, including hiding their sexual or gender identities.
- Of these LGBTQIA+ workforce, 54% report that they remain closeted to their coworkers and customers for fear that it might change perceptions of how they perform the job.
- Finally, 75% of working LGBTQIA+ communities reported that they experienced a negative interaction at work in the past year due to their orientation; 41% of this population experienced encounters like these more than ten times.
These numbers speak significantly about the difference between diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Companies may be hiring diverse individuals, but not all feel free to bring their most authentic selves to the workplace without fearing repercussions.
Research shows that employees who are out at work are more likely to speak up about their ideas and take more creative risks as they feel safe. On the contrary, employees who hide who they truly are become hesitant to showcase their potential.
Past Versus Future
The difference between old and new diversity and inclusion practices is that the older ones aimed at establishing mere anti-discrimination and nonretaliation policies. While all work for the better has to be started somewhere, things have changed over the last years.
Policies now include measures designed to level the playing field while changing the inherent biases of majority groups. Some of them have worked, while others have not been enough to change others’ hearts and minds about diversity and inclusion.
For example, employee resource groups for the LGBTQIA+ community have traditionally seen white, gay males as the most visible members. This was especially true in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today, some employee resource groups have yet to adapt to the newer face of the visible LGBTQIA+ community to address the employees’ most significant difficulties. Companies who wish to evolve must further understand the changing faces of the LGBTQIA+ community and what they need to be the most productive, content, and happy in the workplace.
Two new trends have emerged from the survey findings: 1) what constitutes the LGBTQIA+ workforce has dramatically changed, and 2) younger, straight employees care far better about diversity and inclusion.
More women are now identifying as LGBTQIA+ more than men, with 54% of LGBTQIA+ respondents being women. The trend is even more evident among young employees. Women make up 71% of the LGBTQIA+ employees in the 25-to-34-year-old range, and 78% of women make up LGBTQIA+ employees aged 18 to 24.
Younger LGBTQIA+ are also more racially diverse than the older generations. For instance, 53% of LGBTQIA+ youth ages 18 to 24 identify as non-white, while only 7% LGBTQIA+ individuals ages 55 and older identify as non-white. Similar to this, 34% percent of the Gen-Z LGBTQIA+ workforce is Hispanic, while only 5% of their counterparts ages 55 and older are. This trend of cultural and ethnic diversity will likely continue to increase as new generations enter the workforce.
Numbers of women who report that they identify as bisexual have also increased. In recent studies, 57% of Gen-Z women and 47% of millennial LGBTQIA+ women say that they are bisexual. Other information shows a marked increase in individuals who identify as something other than gay, lesbian, or bisexual, with sexual or gender fluidity becoming more accepted and part of the norm.
Now that the makeup of the LGBTQIA+ workforce has become way different from the previous generations, companies’ diversity and inclusion strategies must keep up with the ever-evolving face of diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community.
The recent research also found that younger, straight employees are now more empathetic to LGBTQIA+ issues than their older counterparts. They care about inclusion and making the workplace a better space for all involved. Employees who identify as straight are also more likely to socialize and be friends with their LGBTQIA+ colleagues than their predecessors. When ally programs are available, they will likely join. They are also three times more likely than older, non-LGBTQIA+ generations to find value in their coworkers being out. They are also quicker to pick up on hate speech and discriminatory comments. They will not stand intolerance, and they’re watching and making better decisions for the LGBTQIA+ community now.
The LGBTQIA+ workforce has continually shown that they are not a homogenous group with the same set of experiences and needs. However, many organizations and companies still make broad policies for all LGBTQIA+ employees. These general policies leave many within the community feeling that their needs are underrepresented.
Companies must focus instead on intersectionality. Intersectionality concentrates on the overlapping categories that can either discriminate against or give disadvantages to groups of people. Besides sexual orientation, gender identity, and race, many other factors can provide people in the LGBTQIA+ community with different and distinct life experiences.
Various needs to consider include their generation, career, income level, caretaker status, and more. Factors like urban versus suburban and immigration status all play into the lives of LGBTQIA+ employees, and they overlap to create different scenarios.
While the idea of intersectionality seems complicated, it is necessary for developing systems of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Leaders in charge of diversity and inclusion should work with employee resource groups to understand all of the needs and issues their LGBTQIA+ employees face in the tapestries of their unique experiences.
To create positive, daily touchpoints for LGBTQIA+ employees, diversity and inclusion leaders must focus more on employee culture than policies. Research shows that breakdowns in positive touchpoints are a threat to feelings of inclusion in the workplace. Failures in touchpoints can include prejudiced comments from colleagues and supervisors, a sense of being unwelcome, or a demonstrated lack of empathy from a company.
Of the survey participants, 75% of LGBTQIA+ employees stated that they had encountered at least one hurtful comment or action at their workplace in the past year. In comparison, 41% percent experienced the same encounters at least ten times in the past year. Encounters like these crush feelings of teamwork, encourage feelings of otherness in employees and lead to a significant morale loss for talented workers.
With companies claiming to make significant commitments to diversity, why do negative experiences keep happening to LGBTQIA+ employees? This is because fellow employees do not understand the full dimensions of their colleagues’ identities. This misunderstanding leads to insensitive and sometimes cruel comments, assumptions, and actions. An example of this would be colleagues assuming that their LGBTQIA+ coworkers do not want children or discouraging an LGBTQIA+ employee from taking the lead on an account because a client may not like them.
Comments and actions like these are universally hurtful, but different people will have a different take on the situation because of their unique identities. For instance, many LGBTQIA+ have been asked by coworkers unusually insensitive and prying questions about their family, parenting structure, and plans for the future. Among the survey respondents, 55% LGBTQIA+ parents reported that they had been asked these questions, which is more than twice as many compared to 26% LGBTQIA+ non-parents.
One more example, many LGBTQIA+ employees report that they regularly deal with coworkers who quietly avoid networking with them. However, this tends to vary depending on the seniority of the employee. The survey reveals that only 16% of LGBTQIA+ employees who are non-managers reported feeling this way, while 35% of junior managers and 50% of senior managers feel passed over by some colleagues at work. In similar findings, 55% of religious LGBTQIA+ employees have had colleagues bring up their views on LGBTQIA+ from a religious lens, while only 31% of non-religious LGBTQIA+ employees have experienced this. These just show that negative experiences deeply vary based on an employee’s overall identity.
The only way to create the most inclusive workplace behavior is to address these harmful breakdowns between LGBTQIA+ employees and their daily touchpoints. However, this strategy won’t be useful if there’s a small awareness amongst straight employees. It’s been apparent in the survey, with only 43% of straight employees reported seeing firsthand discrimination in the workplace against their LGBTQIA+ counterparts.
This low level of awareness and sensitivity of straight employees does not suggest that discrimination is not occurring; it is only not being noticed by the majority. What’s worse is only 34% of straight employees can be counted on to intervene when they see discriminatory behavior. This lack of support leaves LGBTQIA+ employees often unsupported and feeling unsafe in their workspaces.
These scenarios just prove how culture matters in the workplace. Employees with negative experiences at work are less productive, less innovative in their thinking, and far less empowered. They are most prone to leave their current employer to find a company with a more inclusive environment. If companies are unable to fix their cultural problems, they will never reap the full rewards of diversity.
When age is considered, awareness is much higher in millennials and Gen-Z, even though non-LGBTQIA+ employees are less likely to notice discrimination than their LGBTQIA+ coworkers. This only means that if companies do not address their cultural problems at this point, they will risk losing entire generations to those willing to fix inclusivity issues.
Change is always challenging both on the micro and macro scale. Particularly, culture change cannot happen without looking through the lens of intersectionality. Concerns about inclusivity and diversity for the LGBTQIA+ workforce cannot all be viewed from the same stale view. We have moved beyond that in society. It’s time to use new tools to embed real, systemic changes for the good.
Creating a More Inclusive Culture
While leaders and managers may be overwhelmed at how much they need to do to implement real changes for their LGBTQIA+ employees, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Leaders can employ a data-driven process to fast-track progress.
Surveyed LGBTQIA+ employees were asked to assess various benefits, programs, and policies to help make the workplace better for all. Below are five initiatives that came up from the research findings. These methods were found to be cost-efficient in a time of economic uncertainty. They are less costly to implement than traditional measures that include benefits, employee resource groups, training, and conferences.
These five initiatives provide useful tools that ultimately change the workplace culture and landscape while embedding and activating diversity and inclusivity for all. They hold everyone accountable for their action, offer incentives for culturally appropriate workplace behavior, and shift the burden of inclusion from one small group to everyone in the workplace. While this approach is drawn from the research about huge corporations, it can also be scaled down to any size company, organization, or group.
Let LGBTQIA+ employees self-identify
During the hiring process, companies should allow future employees who identify as LGBTQIA+ to share their preferred pronouns with internal systems and HR, even at the start of the hiring process. This sends a clear-cut message about inclusion to applicants and the entire workforce as a whole, and it also allows vital data entry for LGBTQIA+ employees.
Checking the data for self-identification is an essential step to measuring the success of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Specifically, over time, this data allows for diversity and inclusion leaders to make sound decisions while checking on feelings of inclusion and negative experiences in the workplace. If necessary, they can then take that data to prioritize new initiatives and efforts.
Initiate intersectional allyship training
When companies offer allyship programs, they immediately create a shared accountability experience for the entire workplace. These programs, which also raise awareness, can be instrumental in teaching straight people tolerance, intersectionality, and tools to intervene when they witness negative encounters. Allyship training also shifts the burden of responsibility away from one small minority to a large group of people in the workplace.
Teaching about intersectionality requires facilitating hard conversations between coworkers. An employee’s identity does not stop at just their sexual orientation. They must also be seen through the lens of a diverse set of traits that make up a unique identity. Whether LGBTQIA+ employees are caretakers, part-time employees, immigrants, women, or all of the above, their individual stories represent an ever-changing and diverse workforce.
Measure performance from managers
Many companies grasp the utmost importance of gathering intel from their employees about their direct managers. However, they forget to rate managers based on how they implement diversity and inclusion. This missed opportunity is crucial as direct managers have a massive impact on shaping an employee’s daily touchpoints. Companies should take the opportunity to capture feedback from LGBTQIA+ employees about their experience with direct managers to learn more about inclusion. This will lead to more improvements in company culture.
In addition, companies can take the opportunity to set incentives for managers who exhibit inclusive behavior. These measures can include giving managers a bonus for displaying exemplary performance on diversity and inclusion practices. Companies can also track their managers’ behavior for future examples. On the other hand, managers who allow segregation to continue within their teams must face negative consequences.
Managers should look through the lens of intersectionality when driving inclusion and allyship. They must have proper training on intersectionality. Their companies should also support them with reasonable incentives to embed a positive attitude throughout the workplace while increasing overall awareness of discrimination. A strong manager can make the tone of a room. They can also intervene if culture and touchpoints begin to break down in the face of discrimination.
Select a classified ombudsman
When LGBTQIA+ employees experience discrimination at work, they can be hesitant to report it. Partly, this is because when they say something to management, nothing is done. Then, they become a target for even more abuse. Even worse than an isolated incident of an uninformed or prejudiced individual is the feeling that the company does not care as a whole for diversity and inclusion. Systemic discrimination feels terrible to experience.
To rectify such experiences and situations, companies should show they care and are serious about helping those in need and building a more inclusive culture. It is a good idea to select an official ombudsman and let HR facilitate the anonymous process. It is also vital that employees are consistently reminded of the process. They should know that they are confidential in nature, essential to diversity and inclusion practices, and effective when used correctly.
Establish pronoun guidelines
Companies should take the time to issue clear-cut guidelines about the use of pronouns in the workplace. They can let LGBTQIA+ employees know that they can expect colleagues to use whatever pronouns they associate themselves with. It is best to strive for gender-neutral language while incorporating a business-like tone into formal communication for the office. This approach will let LGBTQIA+ employees’ feel a sense of belonging as the entire workforce is aware of their responsibilities to set the atmosphere for diversity and inclusion.
From where they have been previously, companies have indeed come a long way in where they stand on diversity. But, the journey continues. Corporations should take the time to reflect and figure out where they will stand tomorrow and how far they are willing to go to have an inclusive and diverse workplace culture.
At Infinity Consulting Solutions (ICS), we believe in promoting a culture of belonging where each employee’s unique attributes are celebrated. We welcome a workforce with different ethnic, cultural, sexual orientation, gender, and educational backgrounds. Contact us today with questions about our diversity and inclusion initiatives in our recruitment process.