Approximately four percent of the United States workforce identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), according to a 2016 research survey by UCLA's Williams Institute. While this number may seem small, note that a reported 50 percent of LGBT workers choose not to disclose their sexual orientation at work out of fear they might miss out on promotions, be discriminated against or treated differently.
When it comes to workplace diversity, this fear of self-identification poses real challenges for company leadership. While inclusive policies have improved, corporate America still has a long way to go. In 2002, only 13 employers earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, which rates workplaces on LGBT equality; in this year's report, 517 out of 5,228 major brands received a perfect CEI score.
Supporting and attracting diverse employees has a strong business case, too. A recent report from research and marketing consultancy Out Now, "LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case," found that the US economy could save $9 billion annually if organizations were effective at implementing diversity and inclusion policies for LGBT staff.
Here are four things your company can do to ensure that all employees feel comfortable, respected and included in your company culture and workforce community.
1) Standardize Parental Leave Policies
Parenting is hard no matter how it happens. Companies that have more than 50 employees are required to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave as part of the Family Medical Leave Act, but other companies are going far beyond that. Netflix and other Silicon Valley heavyweights have begun offering unlimited parental leave for all of their employees. A policy like this makes a statement that a company values all employees, regardless of their role as a parent. This leads to increased employee retention and more support for employees during one of the most stressful family transitions of their lives.
2) Encourage Internal LGBT Networking and Communities
One of the most important and often overlooked pieces to the employee retention puzzle is friendship and mentorship among colleagues, peers and team members not just in a department, but across the organization. Companies should help foster and encourage an internal LGBT network community within their organization. While this seems small, it is important, especially when you consider that 23 percent of LGBT workers surveyed said they believe they were discriminated against at their workplace.
3) Create a Strong Culture of Inclusiveness
It's not enough just to write a press release or a corporate email notice proclaiming an organization's commitment to inclusiveness. You need to walk the talk by providing extensive employee leadership training in this area. Employee policies should be updated, revised or created to reflect the new focus within the organization. This change requires more than adding a 20-minute video into your new hire orientation. The message that you are an inclusive company and will not tolerate negativity or harassment at work needs to be reinforced everywhere—from the break room to leader meetings and employee conversations.
4) Support LGBT Issues in the Community
Employers who truly want to make a difference and be inclusive—not just within their organization but also in the communities they serve—should begin supporting local LGBT events and issues. This could be as simple as encouraging team members to march in the local Gay Pride Parade, or taking a stand on a local law or ordinance that might impact their LGBT employees.
The key to providing great benefits to any employee population starts with understanding the wants, needs and expectations of your employee population and how those intersect with your employee culture. With any company culture, it's important that a foundation is built on respect, admiration and a commitment to inclusion for all team members. Diversity helps foster creativity, growth and innovation, so investing in diversity means investing in the future of your business.
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