How companies can ensure LGBT+ inclusion is practice, not just policy

by Kristen Anderson | Barilla Group
Tuesday, 29 January 2019 00:00 GMT

A customer withdraws money from an ATM at a Toronto-Dominion (TD) bank branch adorned in colours of the Pride rainbow flag symbolizing gay rights, in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada June 13, 2017. Picture taken June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Businesses should have benefits that suit LGBT+ people and forge links with advocacy groups

These days, most companies understand it is imperative to establish policies that are inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. In addition to having a positive effect on employee engagement, LGBT+ inclusion has also been linked to better business performance.

However, despite growing awareness of its importance, and increased efforts by employers to create more inclusive workplaces, a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation study released in June 2018 found that almost half of LGBT+ employees remain closeted at work. Unfortunately, this statistic has remained mostly unchanged for the last decade.

The lesson here is that actions speak louder than words. While policies are a necessary and important first step, at the end of the day, managers and leaders must communicate consistently and clearly about LGBT+ inclusion. Policies will only be followed and practiced when companies demonstrate a highly visible, authentic and ongoing commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion – starting with senior leadership and extending to every level in all functions in the organisation.

But what are the concrete actions a company can take to create a truly inclusive workplace and environment for every employee regardless of sexuality, gender identity, age or minority or ethnic status?

One critical first step is to develop employer-recognised groups for LGBT+ individuals and their allies.

Groups of employees who voice the concerns of generations, ethnicities, genders, national origins, religions or sexual orientations have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to foster inclusivity. They also have other positive effects, such as helping to increase motivation, reduce turnover and boost productivity.

Another effective policy is to foster relationships with LGBT+ organisations. Examples include Parks in Italy, Autre Circle in France, Prout at Work in Germany; and GLAAD, Catalyst and the Tyler Clementi Foundation in the U.S.

In addition to being excellent sources of information, LGBT+ advocacy groups provide corporate entities with a wide array of partnership, training and learning opportunities that can help businesses drive positive culture changes and awareness of their support of the gay and trans community.

It’s also imperative for employers to implement LGBT-minded benefits programmes, offering services such as paternity leave, domestic partner health insurance and adoption assistance. Transgender health benefits, such as equal coverage for trans individuals, without exclusion for medically necessary care, are also key.

As of 2017, 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offered employee benefits packages that include domestic partners and 58 percent had packages that included transgender benefits. But while this is heartening, there is still much progress to be made. For example, few companies offer LGBT-inclusive family leave. Only 21 percent of U.S. companies offer paid family leave to gay and trans employees and only 23 percent offer paid adoption leave to LGBT+ employees.

Recruitment initiatives, such as minority-focused engagement at universities, specific diversity and inclusion career fairs, and efforts to boost the pipeline of talented minorities are another great way for companies to ensure they are consistently recruiting and developing a diverse pool of new hires and talent. 

And last but not least, taking the necessary steps to earn a high score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index is an effective way to ensure your company is engaging in LGBT-friendly workplace practices and advocacy efforts.

HRC evaluates companies on non-discrimination policies, equitable benefits for gay and trans workers and their families, internal education and accountability metrics, and public commitment to LGBT+ equality. It’s an excellent benchmark of progress and the bar is raised every year with new requirements to increase  inclusion across the board.

Diversity and inclusion is not a spectator sport. We can only foster diversity and help create a more inclusive environment when everyone plays their part.

It takes many small steps by every employee to institute real and lasting change. But every tangible action a company makes will bring it one step closer to becoming a place where people want to work and where everyone has a seat at the table.