How to Foster LGBTQ Workplace Inclusion

Illustration of lgbtq people working in an office with pride flags

Pride Month is upon us – a time when many businesses jump at the opportunity to signal their support for the LGBTQ community with rainbow-tinted initiatives (and logos).

While many of the efforts are commendable, simply hopping on the Pride bandwagon during June isn’t enough to build out your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy. Implementing internal systems and structures to sufficiently support these employees, rather than simply joining in with the marketing celebrations, will have a longer-lasting, positive impact on your business and on your employee satisfaction.

That said, Pride Month offers the perfect opportunity to find out how your company treats its LGBTQ staff, and how it can do better going forward.

As it stands, LGBTQ workplace inclusion has a long way to go. For starters, research shows these professionals take home 16% less than their straight colleagues. Furthermore, one in five UK businesses lack LGBTQ support policies and, for 28% of the ones that do have them, HR managers couldn’t remember the last time they looked at them.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the current state of LGBTQ workplace inclusion. We’ll also discuss ways your business can change for the better while benefiting from employees that feel heard and embraced, mainly covering these five topics:

LGBTQ recruitment

The first barrier LGBTQ people face in the job market is the front door. Stonewall, a queer rights charity, reported that 18% of LGBTQ job seekers said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity while trying to get a job. Surprisingly, 35% of LGBT job seekers surveyed were worried about being discriminated against or harassed at work due to their sexual orientation or gender identity once they were hired.

These statistics show how the personnel involved in the hiring process must avoid falling foul of recruitment biases to really open opportunities for LGBTQ people. If you’re performing the roles of both owner and recruiter for your small business, this means keeping your own biases in check and showing willingness to engage with the queer community.

Doing this entails using inclusive language in job adverts and ensuring the interview experience is welcoming. You can also use LGBTQ-centred job boards, such as Stonewall, LGBT Jobs, myGwork, and Aspiring to Include.

Failing to show that your company is inclusive could severely compromise your company’s ability to snap up talent, especially young people joining the market. According to a recent census, people between the ages of 16 and 24 are twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ than the overall population. Also, the Office for National Statistics found out that the percentage of people in the UK who identify as LGBTQ doubled between 2014 and 2020. These trends show how crucial this inclusion is for your company to stay competitive in the years to come.

LGBTQ pay gap

An economic barrier is also in place when it comes to LGBTQ people in the job market. Since they tend to earn substantially less than their straight colleagues, the effects of the current inflation and rising interest rates in the UK can be particularly hard on them. The latest research into this, conducted by the Trades Union Congress, revealed that there is a 16% LGBTQ pay gap, which means queer employees are paid around £7,000 less than straight employees each year.

Worryingly, from interviewing 1,001 HR managers, the same research found that only one in eight companies monitor their LGBTQ pay gap and only one in five have a plan to address the issue.

Your part in this is to help bring these last numbers up. Run internal surveys that allow you to pinpoint how much your LGBTQ workers are earning and check for any disparities against straight employees working in similar positions. If you’re running a small business largely by yourself and lack a dedicated team to perform this task, consider outsourcing.

This is where salary transparency can play a pivotal role; could you attract stronger talent from the LGBTQ community if you openly advertise pay brackets in job adverts?

LGBTQ inclusion policies

Once your LGBTQ employees are in and are paid in parity with their straight peers, LGBTQ inclusion policies can make the difference when it comes to staff satisfaction and retention. As pointed out by a 2021 study, inclusive company cultures contribute to an increase of staff happiness and an overall improvement of their health.

However, a recent survey by an LGBTQ charity, Just Like Us, pointed out that one in four young LGBTQ people said they went back into the closet once they started work. Also, Deloitte’s report on LGBTQ workplace inclusion discovered that 42% of LGBTQ employees witnessed non-inclusive behaviour at work.

To tackle this, it’s important to nurture a company culture that embraces these individuals and combats discrimination. Encouraging the declaration of pronouns, extending invitations of same-sex partners to socials, and cracking down on the usage of offensive language are among the actions that you can start (or expand on) in your company.

Insider's take

In making workplace policies which are supportive to the LGBTQ+ community, there are many factors which should be considered in this. Organisations should explicitly specify that discrimination towards LGBTQ+ is not tolerated, as well as having a strong reporting system in place and disciplinary measures to enact if discrimination occurs. Furthermore, organisations can offer LGBTQ+ support groups and training around LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Paris Will, lead corporate research advisor for the London School of Economics

LGBTQ employee benefits

Eliminating (or reducing) the differing treatment queer people experience goes beyond the social aspect of their work life. Implementing employee benefits that cater to their needs is a key strategy to foster LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace.

Offering healthcare as well as wellness platforms and programs can be of great help to these individuals. Looking after their mental health, in particular, is paramount, since LGBTQ people are more vulnerable to these issues. In a survey conducted by YouGov in 2018, over half (52%) of the LGBT respondents said they experienced depression in the previous year. If your mental health initiative has support specifically tailored to target LGBTQ issues, that’s a plus.

Another way to include your LGBTQ employees is to set up internal processes that support same-sex parenthood, such as parental leave equal to what’s in place for straight couples, as well as fertility programs that include queer people.

In our interview with Maryam Din, client account manager at long-running LGBTQ charity Stonewall, they told us that such LBGTQ-inclusive benefits are on the rise in the workplace.

Insider's take

We’ve also seen a bigger drive for that visibility and representation, and for having supportive employee benefits that specifically include LGBTQ colleagues. We’ve seen an increase in organisations seeking trans-inclusive healthcare coverage and being inclusive of LGBTQ people and their families. We’ve also seen a big push for Pride events to become more prominent and more inclusive.

Maryam Din, client account manager for Stonewall

LGBTQ celebrations

Celebrating queer culture and its contribution to society goes a long way when it comes to letting your LGBTQ employees know that your company supports them. Pride Month provides a massive opportunity for you and your organisation to do this while letting your clientele know your stance on LGBTQ rights.

You may not realise it, but LGBTQ culture has put distinctive stamps on music, fashion, and lifestyle. This gives you a variety of options to throw themed socials. Organising talks with queer speakers and supporting queer events – such as Pride parades – are also good strategies. The aim should be to make your LGBTQ employees feel embraced, but also involve the company at large in the cause. If your company’s size allows it, consider establishing an LGBTQ network. This is likely to promote engagement all year round.

However, you must be wary of “pinkwashing,” which is the practice of celebrating the LGBTQ community for the show while doing no real groundwork to support it. This is particularly noticeable during Pride Month, when many businesses rush to pledge allegiance as a form of lip-service.

gif about the differences in corporate behaviour during and after Pride Month
gif criticising pinkwashing

In a nutshell, getting your logo done in the rainbow colours in June doesn’t cut it. Firstly, if LGBTQ inclusion is your aim, you must think of year-long initiatives. Secondly, in the social media age, it’s easy for someone to denounce a company’s pinkwashing and kickstart a PR crisis.

LGBTQ inclusion: actions recap

We’ve included suggestions for you to consider when planning your LGBTQ workplace inclusion strategy but, with Pride Month about to start, we get it if you feel like cutting to the chase. For the skimmers out there, here’s a recap:

  • During recruitment, make sure job adverts have inclusive language and try to use LGBTQ-focused job boards
  • Address the LGBTQ pay gap by looking into your payroll data and making the necessary adjustments
  • Nurture a company culture that embraces LGBTQ people and actively combats discrimination
  • Implement company benefits that specifically cater to the needs of LGBTQ employees
  • Celebrate LGBTQ employees and culture publicly – but make sure your efforts actually support them instead of just being PR opportunities

Q&A: being LGBTQ in the workplace

These questions were answered by a non-binary reporter who asked for anonymity. They have been working in media for several years.

1) As an LGBTQ person, how included do you feel in your workplace?

In my particular bit of the office, it’s great. My colleagues are very supportive and kind. In the wider office, not particularly. The company says all the right things but, ultimately, it feels very much like lip-service, and a reason to get marginalised people to do free work.

2) Have you ever experienced any discrimination in your workplace, either currently or in the past? If so, was there any sort of accountability?

Yes, transphobic harassment on two occasions. The first time, there was formal accountability and my boss dealt with the issue. The second time, I didn’t want to report it, but my colleagues intervened with the harasser directly.

3) Is there any policy or benefit towards LGBTQ people in your company that makes a positive impact in your life? If so, which one?

There’s a new leave policy for couples undergoing fertility treatment that specifically includes LGBTQ couples, which is nice.

4) Which policy or benefit towards LGBTQ people would you like to see in the future, either in your current company or in general?

Transition care as part of a company health plan, and more comprehensive mental health support that is specifically inclusive of LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ inclusion: key takeaways

Now you know more about the current state of LGBTQ workplace inclusion, you can see the need to improve it. The statistics show the vulnerability of this social group and how exclusion still plays a great role in keeping it from entering (or remaining in) the workforce. These employees could massively contribute to your venture, but you’ll never know if you don’t take the step to meet them halfway.

The actions we mentioned are ways to address some of the major work issues affecting the LGBTQ community, but we understand they’re not applicable to companies of all sizes. Some businesses may be limited when it comes to implementing measures that involve huge costs, for instance.

However, we believe small and medium-sized businesses have the power to make a huge difference through grassroots efforts. Starting conversations, fostering an inclusive company culture, and throwing internal awareness events can yield incredible results while not denting budgets. You’re in good time, as Pride Month is a great place to start with all this. That said, remember: these employees support your company’s cause all year, so it’s worth supporting theirs, too.

Written by:
Lucas Pistilli author headshot photo
Lucas is a Brazilian-born journalist and Expert Market’s go-to writer for all things EPOS systems, merchant accounts, and franking machines. Having covered business, politics and technology for many years, he’s driven by his passion for the written word and his goal to help people make well-informed decisions.