We are living in a moment of radical possibility for positive transformation in the daily work lives of LGBTQ+ people in corporate America. Why now?
The pandemic has fundamentally changed everything, but this disruption can be the birthplace of innovation and opportunity for human resources leaders throughout the United States. Businesses can leverage this period of transformation in work environments to translate our cultural anxieties and inertia into new ways of supporting employees who have previously been excluded from full participation or harmed by our neglect.
A recent survey indicates that almost 50 percent of LGBTQ+ people don’t feel safe revealing their identities at work and even more report harassment and name calling. Individuals with intersecting minoritized identities — i.e. race, class, and gender — often feel like they have to play identity chess when seeking support. Corporate diversity programs are often siloed in such a way that, for instance, a Black transgender woman would have to choose which identity to present in order to obtain the assistance they need, particularly healthcare.
These realities should be a major wake-up call for corporations as we return to site-based work as COVID dies down. The two well-researched and proven critical indicators of success that HR leaders can use for baseline assessment are employee retention and recruitment and hightened return on investment by at least 15 percent.
Corporations achieving these results most often have fully implemented the three pillars of the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index: Non-discrimination policies across all business entities; equitable benefits to LGBTQ+ workers and their families; and supporting an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility.
The ultimate goal is to create more equitable and better-functioning organizations and cultivate trust, acceptance, and physical and psychological safety for LGBTQ+ and otherwise underrepresented employees. HR leaders are encouraged to implement rigorous self-assessment across all aspects of business.
This type of assessment doesn’t have to cost anything but does need the support of senior leadership. CEOs and boards must embrace systemic change, talk about it, and advocate for it. Corporations play a leading role in creating a just and equitable society. In a recent survey, 61 percent of respondents expressed greater trust in businesses — significantly higher than the number who trusted governments or the media. https://www.edelman.com/trust/2021-trust-barometer.
Behaviors that corporations choose to model now for their employees and customers really matter and we cannot wait on external regulatory requirements to tell us what we must do. It is important for business leaders to stretch themselves to invite LGBTQ+ people to fully participate in social media circles and coffee chats, and to provide opportunities for advancement and a seat at the table in the boardroom.