Learn how to support LGBTQIA+ workers and how you can improve employee satisfaction by doing so.
Here's what you need to know:
- State laws protect the LGBTQIA+ from discrimination
- Companies should adopt and enforce diversity, equity, and inclusion policies
- Discrimination should be eliminated when recruiting and promoting employees
The LGBTQIA+ community took its fight to become a protected class of citizens to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2020 and won. But despite the high court’s favorable ruling, 21 states have introduced legislation to roll back a number of the LGBTQIA+ community’s social, political and legislative victories. So, how can employers support their LGBTQIA+ employees and uphold diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace when state-sponsored restrictions threaten LGBTQIA+ rights?
Knowing how to support the LGBTQIA+ community can improve employee wellbeing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) maintains a roster of states with laws or legislative proposals targeting LGBTQIA+ rights. According to the nonpartisan organization, the restrictions fall into categories that affect nearly every group within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Small businesses can show their support by first knowing what groups make up the LGBTQIA+ community. A second step is recognizing the legislative restrictions and other barriers its members face. And step three is knowing how to support them in the workplace.
Who makes up the LGBTQIA+ community?
The initial abbreviation, LGBT, stood for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. The term expanded to include “Q” for queer, or people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation but may unknowingly fit into the other four identities. The abbreviation now includes:
- “I” for intersex, an umbrella term for people whose physiology is neither male nor female
- “A” for people who identify as asexual, agender, or allies of the LGBTQIA+ community
- “+” for those who identify as agender or gender fluid, rather than as any one of the other groups.
What LGBTQIA+ rights are at stake?
While a number of state lawmakers publicly support protections for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, others proposed and voted for bills in 2022 legislative sessions that will restrict their rights. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), state lawmakers have introduced more than 175 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills since 2015. Other sources put the number of bills at 400 in 2021 and 120 in 2022, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP).
Isn’t bias against LGBTQIA+ employees and people decreasing?
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are least likely to feel included in the workplace.The LGBTQIA+ community still reports rampant discrimination and even crime against its members.
A 2020 survey by CAP and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago found that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQIA+ adults experienced some type of discrimination that year. The breakdown for nonwhite and transgender LGBTQI+ people was 2 in 5 and 3 in 5, respectively.
Data from BiasSync, an SaaS technology company, shows similar levels of discrimination among LGBTQIA+ populations. Michele Ruiz, CEO of BiasSync, said that members of the community reported being the least likely to feel included in the workplace. As a result, said Ruiz, more LGBTQIA+ employees are selecting employers who “value them and their contributions as employees.”
What legislation threatens LGBTQIA+ rights?
Governors signed more than a few anti-LGBTQIA+ bills into law during recent legislative sessions. Lawmakers defeated some bills, while holding others in legislative committees.
Anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation varies by state, but key measures would:
- Repeal local anti-discrimination laws.
- Allow religious people and groups to deny goods and services to LGBTQIA+ people in a measure called “religious exemption.”
- Bar transgender people from accessing restrooms based on their gender identity.
- Deny transgender people medical care for sex reassignment.
- Prevent transgender athletes from competing with or against athletes they identify with based on sex.
- Deny transgender people identity documents.
- Restrict LGBTQI+ parental or adoption rights.
- Censor inclusivity instruction and sex education in schools.
- Ban books on LGBTQI+ representation in schools.
- Label parental support of transgender youth as child abuse
When asked how anti- LGBTQI+ legislation would affect companies’ DEI plans, Ruiz said that although it’s unfortunate that states are passing these bills, companies in these states still have plenty of opportunities to increase equity and inclusion.
How can employers support LGBTQIA+ employees?
Small businesses (SMBs) can join large companies in protecting LGBTQIA+ employees by pushing for anti-discriminatory legislation and backing rights organizations’ business initiatives, such as:
- The Human Rights Campaign (HRC). This nonprofit organization has fought for LGBTQIA+ rights for 40 years. The HRC is calling on corporate leaders to rally against injustice and discriminatory legislation that threaten the wellbeing of the LGBTQIA+ community.
- National Business Statement Opposing Anti-LGBTQ State Legislation. This HRC statement seeks companies’ pledges to reject legislation that harms LGBTQIA+ people and targets transgender youth, and to embrace diversity and inclusion. To date, 193 companies have signed the statement. The HRC Foundation certifies companies whose best business practices meet its highest standards for improving the experience of LGBTQIA+ employees.
- Business Coalition for the Equality Act. The nation’s businesses formed this coalition under the HRC to support the 1973-1974 Equality Act. The federal law amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to make discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and marital status illegal.
What else can employers do to support LGBTQIA+ employees?
Besides backing nondiscriminatory legislation and rights organizations, employers can support LGBTQIA+ workers within their organizations by:
- Adopting and enforcing DEI workplace policies.
- Offering health care, life insurance, and family-friendly benefits to LGBTQIA+ employees and their families.
- Eliminating discrimination in all recruiting and promoting practices.
- Closing the wage gap between non-white, transgender, and non-binary LGBTQIA+ people
and that of white and non- LGBTQIA+ employees.
- Form LGBTQIA+-oriented employee resource groups (ERCs).
Meera Watts, the owner and instructor at Siddhi Yoga International Ltd, said that recognizing LGBTQIA+ employees’ performance and efforts without judgment makes them feel comfortable and supported in the workplace. She also stressed the need for equity when rewarding employees for their achievements.
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Which states are challenging LGBTQIA+ employees’ rights?
The states on record for proposing restrictions on LGBTQIA+ citizens are:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Nine of the states have multiple proposals.
However, these states, along with others, also have proposals and laws to protect members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
What can employers learn from LGBTQIA+ employees?
Ruiz points to how LGBTQIA+ people view themselves and are perceived by others as a teaching moment for employers. “Stereotypes fueled by media and entertainment are one contributor to the barriers faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals in the workplace,” said Ruiz.
“As a society, we have been conditioned to think about the LGBTQIA+ community in certain ways, which can sometimes result in cognitive dissonance [mental uneasiness] in our brains that alters our perceptions, decisions, and desire to [be inclusive about] members of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Are employers becoming better LGBTQIA+ supporters?
A 2020 McKinsey & Company report found that companies are addressing LGBTQIA+ employees’ needs in more ways than ever before. Employers are sponsoring annual Gay Pride events, forming ERCs, making critical decisions about recruiting and hiring, and marketing their brands to the LGBTQIA+ community.
LGBTQIA+ women are the most underrepresented of all women in corporate America.
McKinsey also points out that in 2020, 206 high-profile corporations signed an amicus brief to support the LGBTQIA+ community’s Supreme Court case. But despite the employer’s show of support for LGBTQIA+ issues, McKinsey concluded that employers are making symbolic gestures instead of solid progress.
For example, McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace research found that LGBTQIA+ women were the most underrepresented of all women in corporate America and that of the four openly LGBTQIA+
CEOs, only one was female and none were transgender. Ruiz agreed that companies can become better supporters of the LGBTQIA+ workforce. She said that BiasSync’s research shows that many business leaders fail to recognize the intersectionality that LGBTQIA+ employees experience. She added that a person who’s Black and gay may face both racial and gender identity bias.
What’s the takeaway for employers?
Companies don’t have to sit on the sidelines while states pass anti- LGBTQIA+ bills. Instead, they can focus on creating and maintaining an inclusive culture that supports all employees.