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Mary Mazzoni headshot

How Brands Can Step Up to Better Support LGBTQ Employees

By Mary Mazzoni
male hand holding rainbow pride flag - LGBTQ pride

Pride Month is meant to be a joyful celebration of the LGBTQ community and a rallying cry for justice and inclusion. But this year's celebrations are dampened by a disturbing rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric across the United States. Considering a third of our lives are spent at work, employers have a significant role to play in creating safe and inclusive spaces for people in the community who feel increasingly under attack. 

The explosion of anti-LGBTQ legislation runs counter to public opinion 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is tracking 491 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation making their way through statehouses across the country. The scope of these bills include weakening anti-discrimination laws, censoring discussion of LGBTQ issues and history in schools, restricting gender-affirming care for transgender people, and banning LGBTQ gatherings like drag shows.

As state lawmakers look to push this type of discriminatory legislation through, many have adopted increasingly extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Groups of their fans and followers have done the same, in person and online, including a coordinated campaign against brands promoting inclusion during Pride Month. 

The surge in discriminatory legislation and rhetoric could lead people to believe the public's attitudes have shifted when it comes to welcoming and including people in the community. But data indicates that's far from true.

Recent polling from GLAAD and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that support for equal rights is increasing, not decreasing. In the GLAAD survey, 91 percent of non-LGBTQ Americans agreed that LGBTQ people "should have the freedom to live their life and not be discriminated against," and 84 percent support equal rights for the community. Similarly, 8 in 10 respondents to the PRRI survey are in favor of laws that shield people in the community from discrimination. 

Support for equal rights for the LGBTQ community is at an all-time high GLAAD survey shows
(Source: GLAAD)

The discriminatory climate is taking a toll on LGBTQ people at work 

A study released last week by Indeed sheds light on how discriminatory policies and rhetoric are affecting LGBTQ people in the workplace. The majority of LGBTQ respondents (60 percent) report experiencing discrimination at work, ranging from being passed over for promotions and raises to outright harassment and violence. More than a quarter of LGBTQ people, including over 30 percent of trans people, say they are not out at work. 

"This climate of fear and intimidation comes on the heels of hard-earned fights for employers to do better by LGTBQ+ communities," journalist S. Mitra Kalita, CEO of URL Media, wrote on Charter this week. "That’s all at risk as literally hundreds of bills seek to obliterate the existence of our colleagues."

She spoke with three LGBTQ and workplace experts about what brands can do to better support their employees. The results are insightful and well worth a read in full. “Work continues to be a major source of stress for LGBTQ+ professionals, especially with rising anti-LGBTQ+ legislation which has a direct impact on access to economic opportunity,” Andrew McCaskill, who works on LinkedIn’s communications team and authors The Black Guy in Marketing newsletter, told Kalita. 

So, what are other leaders saying about what brands can do to support employees better? 

How brands can step up to better support LGBTQ employees

Offer LGBTQ-specific benefits. Over half of LGBTQ employees want to see benefits that are specific to their community, but less than a quarter report having any in their current workplace, according to Indeed's survey. Benefits employees are seeking include health insurance that covers LGBTQ-friendly providers and gender-affirming care, benefits that extend to domestic partners rather than solely spouses, mental health benefits, and paid caregiver leave. 

In many cases, these are benefits employers already offer, but they haven't modified them to be inclusive of all their employees. In its guidance for LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) — which represents 325,000 HR professionals across 165 countries — recommends employers revisit their policies and practices to ensure they are equally available to all employees. 

Check your culture. Creating inclusive benefits packages and corporate policies is an important baseline, but "having a written policy isn't enough," SHRM's guide reminds employers. "Even if an employee is in a workplace with internal policies that protect LGBTQ+ workers, a company's culture may inhibit employees from bringing their whole selves to work." 

LGBTQ-specific diversity training — another benefit highlighted by employees in Indeed's survey — is a solid first step for educating your teams about how to avoid, spot, and stamp out microaggressions and discrimination against their colleagues. So is setting clear, values-based expectations for employees, such as respecting others. Even dress codes can set the tone for how people show up at work. "Make sure they are neutral without gender stereotypes," SHRM recommends. "General Motors gained national attention when CEO Mary Barra replaced a 10-page dress code with two words: Dress appropriately."

Lift up diverse leaders. “If employees are hearing from the same types of individuals, they’re seeing that a clear mark of success [to their employer] isn’t someone who looks or sounds like them," Sabrina Kent of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce told the Story Exchange.

When recruiting, make it clear that your company is an equal opportunity employer, and ensure you interview and consider diverse candidates rather than quickly deciding on someone who looks and lives like you. Do the same when choosing who will head up projects, present during meetings and lead teams. The more you lift up leaders from all backgrounds, including LGBTQ people and those from other historically marginalized communities, the more your employees get the message that you want every one of them to succeed. 

Use your marketing to raise awareness. Your company's voice matters in the fight for inclusion. In its recommendations for corporate allies, GLAAD calls on companies to use their marketing materials and social media to speak out against discriminatory legislation and support "Pride 365," running inclusive campaigns throughout the year rather than solely during Pride Month. Even better, engage LGBTQ-owned media companies to help you get the message out. 

Flex your political muscles. "Extend support to the political fight," GLAAD challenges business leaders. "True corporate allies do not donate to candidates or elected officials who introduce, vote yes, or otherwise support  anti-LGBTQ legislation or block passage of pro-LGBTQ legislation like the Equality Act." 

Beyond revisiting your political donations, GLAAD called out Apple as an example of how companies can step into the role of political ally. "Amidst an unprecedented wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2022, Apple utilized multiple offices to take action. Apple lobbied against these harmful bills, filled court briefs in cases involving LGBTQ people, and encouraged other large companies to take public stands against this legislation," GLAAD observed. 

The bottom line

LGBTQ employees work day in and day out to make their companies successful, and with discrimination on the rise, employers have a responsibility to them.

Failing to live up to that responsibility tells employees — whether they're part of the community or not — that your company ignores or tacitly approves of an increasingly hostile climate that threatens people's well-being. Decision-makers at any company that claims to lead with values and purpose certainly wouldn't want to send that message. And with leaders creating clear blueprints for inclusion, there's really no excuse for companies not to do better. 

Image credit: Jose Pablo Garcia/Unsplash

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni