Employers Must Promote LGBTQ+ Inclusive Work Environments to Achieve Equitable Employment 

By Ashley Burnside & Whitney Bunts

Despite the cancellation of Pride Month events in June due to COVID-19, the LGBTQ+ community was able to celebrate in mid-June. In a 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court made it unlawful for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ+ workers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a big deal because it protects LGBTQ+ people from being denied jobs or promotions or being terminated just because of who they are. While this ruling will ensure all 50 states have legal protections that mandate the LGBTQ+ community be treated fairly in workplaces, organizations still have to go the extra mile to assure community members are being included, appreciated, and feel safe. Employer commitments to workplace fairness bring us one step closer to eradicating poverty and achieving equity and economic justice for all.

Similar to many other oppressed groups, the LGBTQ+ community faces major barriers in many aspects of their life—employment, health care, education, and access to services like homeless shelters and in places of public accomodations (stores, hotels etc.). Moreover, they often feel isolated, rejected, and unsafe in many environments—including at home, in their communities, and at work. All of which results in high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and increased levels of poverty and food insecurity. For people of color who identify as LGBTQ+, these disparities are even more acute. Studies show 15 percent of the Black, 14 percent of the Latinx, and 11 percent of the Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ community are unemployed, compared to the 8 percent unemployment rate for the general population. (Note: all unemployment figures are based on the pre-pandemic labor market.) 

Over the past 10 years, the Supreme Court has issued decisions ensuring that the LGBTQ+ community has the same rights as the rest of society, but this has not always translated to inclusive workplaces. Many individuals, organizations, and companies haven’t caught up to legislation. For instance, LGBTQ+ people still experience overt hate and homophobic slurs, as well as hostile workplaces. Over 60 percent of LGBTQ+ employees report hearing jokes about the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace, which makes people feel unwelcome and unsafe. Many organizations and companies lack policies and benefit packages that are inclusive of their LGBTQ+ workers. 

Beyond legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community from employment discrimination, organizations still need to create welcoming environments. Employers should commit to hiring and promoting inclusive environments for the community. Below are a few ways to create such environments:

1. Provide health care benefits inclusive of transgender and other LGBTQ+ folks. Employers should provide equal health care coverage for transgender employees without exclusion for transition-related care, as well as comprehensive fertility services for same-sex couples.

2. Include gender neutral bathrooms in your office. Gender neutral bathrooms provide a safe environment for transgender and gender non-conforming people to use the bathroom at work. 

3. Incorporate inclusive language into your hiring, onboarding, and office practices. Using gender-neutral language in job postings and employee benefits is critical for improving inclusive hiring practices. It is vital that people not assume pronouns and provide opportunities for individuals to self-identify what pronouns they use.

4. Have inclusive definitions in employer-provided paid family leave policies of family members for whom employees can take bonding or caregiving leave. Defining an employee’s family to include chosen family members helps LGBTQ+ community members, who are significantly more likely to take time off to care for someone in their chosen family.

5. Provide trainings in the workplace on LGBTQ+ identities and inclusion. Informational trainings and facilitated conversations can promote understanding and reduce stigma for LGBTQ+ employees.

While legal protections are critical, so is reducing day-to-day microaggressions and improving workplace climate for LGBTQ+ employees.