“Equitable policies and benefits are critical to LGBTQ inclusion in the workforce but alone are not sufficient to support a truly inclusive culture within a workplace. Employers recognize that beyond the letter of a policy, additional programming and educational efforts are necessary” - Corporate Equality Index 2021
Here are some interesting Corporate Equality Index (CEI) findings:
767 employers achieved a top score of 100 and earned the coveted title of “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality”
- 100% of CEI rated employers explicitly include “sexual orientation” as a part of their nondiscrimination policy
- 99.7% of CEI rated employers explicitly include “gender identity” as a part of their nondiscrimination policy
- 78% of CEI participants documented that they provide inclusive benefits for same- and different-sex spouses and partners
The numbers above are reason enough to celebrate. However, a lot of work remains to be done. With diversity and inclusion gaining significant momentum in the aftermath of the shocking socio-cultural incidents of 2020, how we approach inclusion is steadily replacing the number-driven mindset around diversity. It is no longer just about hiring individuals from the LGBTQ+ community, but creating a truly inclusive ecosystem for them to belong and thrive.
As Pride Month kicks in, we bring to you a five part-series on accelerating LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace. While the statistics above reveal the success of a significant segment of the global population in fostering and enabling LGBTQ+ inclusion, many leaders and employers are still lagging as they strive to put the pieces together and kickstart their LGBTQ+ inclusion journey.
Part One of the series taps into the essential cornerstones of going beyond numbers and policies, and enabling impactful, sustainable change in the organizational DNA through Awareness, Conversation and Action (ACA).
Programming for inclusion
As the CEI 2021 report highlights, employers have recognized that beyond the letter of a policy, additional programming and educational efforts are necessary to foster LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace. The aspect of programming is now gathering pace with leaders and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) advocates who aim to accelerate their efforts in this direction.
The last year witnessed a dramatic shift from passive advocacy to active dialogue from leaders all across the globe in enhancing inclusivity.
Some of the most popular conversations have been around overcoming unconscious bias, bringing in psychological safety and enabling a sense of belonging for one and all.
This conscious shift to inclusion has helped highlight the three crucial pillars of sustainable LGBTQ+ inclusion:
While these three pillars are applicable to sustainable inclusion efforts across the breadth of diversity, the next few sections will dive deeper in these areas with the lens of LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace.
Enabling awareness - Of biases and ignorance
Paving the way for awareness is absolutely essential to foster inclusive interpersonal dynamics, while overcoming biases and stereotypes. For decades now, the workplace, in addition to society, has been discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. However, recent years have shown a shift in both, access to opportunity and the culture of acceptance.
The more conscious and aware people are about what being LGBTQ+ is, the less likely they are to be a contributor to and facilitator of exclusion.
Often, the assumptions and judgements we make about the capabilities of people who we perceive to be “different”, are a function of unchecked opinions that are ingrained in us as we grow. The first and foremost step in the process of enabling inclusion is awareness.
Awareness of the disconnect of ideas from reality, awareness of whether the opinions you hold today are truly yours or inherited from another biased individual, and awareness of how those opinions impact people, their lives, their livelihood and their future.
“Even people deeply committed to diversity and consciously striving to do the right thing are sometimes subtly influenced by their backgrounds, their experiences and the way their brains work,” said Benjamin Reese, Jr., Vice President of Duke's Office for Institutional Equity and Chief Diversity Officer. “It's the work of a lifetime to counteract these biases.”
In the context of LGBTQ+ inclusion, it is essential to be aware of what being LGBTQ+ encompasses. A famous saying goes this way, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” ,the cost of this ignorance has been borne by LGBTQ+ individuals and their families for centuries.
“One acronym - SOGIESC. If the global community endeavors to understand this acronym, we will begin to scratch the surface of a fair world, or at least a less inhuman one, for all. SOGIESC stands for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics. Exploring what SOGIESC represents will enable you to understand that being LGBTQ+ is a lot more than who your partner is, it is about who you are, it’s about being authentic in understanding, identifying and expressing yourself.”
Specific to the LGBTQ+ community, there is a focus around “coming out of the closet” or being “out at work”. While the need to come out might be debatable - given not everyone is required to announce or embrace their individualities publicly - the conversation around what being LGBTQ+ truly means, needs to see the light of the day.
Making conversations transformational - All a closet is, is a hard conversation!
We all have certain traits, behaviours, preferences, and individual personalities which predispose us to a sense of being “not acceptable” among our peers, or being at a disadvantage when it comes to career development opportunities. This sense is often borne out of observations on how the ecosystem responds to individual choices and fuels ostracization based on perceptions as well as archaic beliefs. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, in addition to those traits, the simple fact of belonging to the community worsens the fear, confining them to the “closet”. But what is a closet really? And how can organizations help open the closet?
In her TED talk, Ash Beckham, an ‘accidental activist’ as she describes herself, talks about her three-point process for managing hard conversations. Beckham is of the opinion that - All a closet is, is a hard conversation.
“It might be telling someone you love them for the first time, announcing that you’re pregnant, or saying you have cancer.” These are all “closets”, Beckham suggests, and “the only way out, is to open the door and step out of your closet.”
According to Beckham, the three-point process for managing hard conversations requires one to:
- Be authentic
- Stay direct
- Remain unapologetic
“At some point in our lives, we all live in closets, and they may feel safe, or at least safer than what lies on the other side of that door. But, no matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to live,” said Beckham.
For an organization of any size that aims to foster and accelerate LGBTQ+ inclusion, and eliminate discrimination in any and all forms, open dialogue is non-negotiable. This openness and authenticity in conversation is essential to eradicate discrimination and biases against underrepresented groups, and encourage a safe space to interact and understand each other.
Educating the workforce on what being LGBTQ+ entails, and enabling conversations on how employers, people managers and team members can be more inclusive is crucial to narrowing the gap in acceptance and belonging.
Actions indeed speak louder than words
This phrase couldn’t be more accurate to describe the DEI efforts by organizations across the globe. Once conversations take place, the next step is acting upon those conversations and keeping the dialogue open to make room for needed changes.
While we tap into the nuances of LGBTQ+ inclusion and get policies and infrastructure (physical and cultural) in place, ensuring that we act upon the intent of inclusion in our daily interactions and ways of working is core to making inclusion sustainable.
Here are some reassuring statistics from CEI 2021 on where we stand today with respect to LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace:
- 92% of CEI-rated employers (1,052 of 1,142 respondents) offer a robust set of practices (at least three efforts) to support organizational LGBTQ diversity competency
- 94% of CEI-rated employers (1,081 of 1,142 respondents) have an employee resource group or diversity council that includes LGBTQ and allied employees and programming
- 624 major businesses have adopted gender transition guidelines to establish best practices in transgender inclusion for managers and teams
Commenting on the findings of CEI 2021, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said, “Our participating companies know that building an LGBTQ-inclusive workplace is not just the right thing to do — it is also the best business decision — allowing companies to attract, retain and engage top talent."
One size sure does not fit all. Every organization will have to navigate its way through the DEI journey, overcoming its own challenges and leveraging the available resources. The ACA framework has the potential to be the secret sauce to solidifying the DEI framework. How swiftly organizations tailor the framework as per the needs of their existing and potential LGBTQ+ workforce will be key to determining the success and sustainability of their DEI efforts.
Follow our five part series this Pride Month:
Part One: Accelerating LGBTQ+ inclusion with ACA
Part Three: Roadblocks to LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace
Part Four: Enabling cultural shifts with allyship