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Editorial
Looking Toward a Workplace That's Truly LGBTQ-Inclusive: What We Still Need
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Cassandra Pratt

Diversity and inclusion programs are on the rise for employers.  But are we addressing everything we need to create a LGBTQ friendly workplace? 

Why We Need Inclusion

One of the best ways to achieve greater business success is to have insight from a team that truly reflects a global view. Numerous studies have discussed the benefits of a diverse workforce.  It helps drive innovation and creativity, attracts top talent, and leads to higher employee retention rates.  

However, attracting and retaining diverse talent can be a challenge.  A diverse team in of itself is not enough to keep turnover low and a business moving forward. You must have a support system in place that addresses the unique needs of your LGBTQ employees.

Think of it like this: If you were throwing a charity event and everyone arrived to find chips and champagne and no speaker scheduled to share the mission and goal for the event, how long would it take for your guests to leave?

The same is true for your company. There’s never a one size fits all solution for all your employees. Inclusive benefits and the systems you have in place to provide your employees with a safe and productive environment keep them coming back every day. 

Creating Trust

A LGBTQ-friendly workplace where team members are able to be openly out with their colleagues has a higher retention rate than a workplace where they feel they have to hide their sexual orientation.  A 2013 Williams Institute study found that there is a positive relationship between LGBT-supportive policies and business-related outcomes. It found that, “LGBT-supportive policies are most strongly linked to more openness about being LGBT [including] improved health outcomes, increased job satisfaction, and greater job commitment.” The study highlights the importance of non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity to create a supportive workplace. These policies should be incorporated into a value system that includes respect and inclusiveness.

Beyond Non-discrimination Policies

Every year the Human Rights Campaign publishes the Corporate Equity Index (CEI), a roadmap for employer best practices within LGBTQ community, including a “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.”  The index evaluates companies on a percent rating based on several areas: corporate non-discrimination policies, benefits offered to LGBTQ employees and their families, employee education and training to promote inclusiveness accountability, and community outreach. In 2018, 609 employers scored 100 percent versus just 13 in 2000. The increase in companies is a huge accomplishment and highlights an increasing focus on LGBTQ benefits in the workplace. 

One of the latest progressions in LGBTQ benefits inclusion is an increased recognition of the transgender community. According to Jessica Haslam, Wellbeing Program Manager at Sequoia Consulting Group, “The most significant progress in the CEI has been the wide-scale adoption of transgender-inclusive initiatives across businesses." For reference, 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies now have transgender benefits of some kind, and 82 percent of the Fortune 500 have gender identity protections enumerated in their non-discrimination policies. We’ve seen these include (but not limited to) gender-neutral office bathrooms and increased coverage for transgender services such as sex reassignment surgery.”

Adding benefits that are equivalent to all employees is critical, however, there is also a need for increased education about available options.  “Clear understanding and improved communication surrounding existing company benefits and policies is simple and low cost, but high value and a very much needed starting place for many organizations. Often times, helpful resources and company policies are already in place, but due to poor communication are largely underutilized or familiarized with employees,” said Haslam. This is good news for companies with cost constraints. 

There is still room for improvements from carriers too.  Tight definitions of eligible dependents can be biased towards the LGBTQ community.  According to Haslam, “From what I’ve seen, there is still a long way to go in making these types of conversations surrounding benefits part of the norm. With increased education and awareness surrounding benchmarking and best practices for leadership and company HR departments, the trickle-down effect can be a powerful one.”

Knowing all of this, what’s next on the horizon to continue to increase availability the benefits for LGBTQ employees?

Haslam predicts that, “Hands down, either carriers will need to further adapt and redefine policies to be more inclusive in their definitions of a ‘partner’ and topics like ‘conception’, or we’ll see a surge in companies focused on improving the experience for family planning for all types of families, including the LGBT community.”

Looking Towards the Future

Competitive benefits packages are key for attracting and retaining talent.  Harassment-free workplaces promote employee innovation and job satisfaction. Ongoing employee education satisfies employees’ desires for continuous learning and career development and enables the advancement of a truly inclusive environment. Each of these factors is key in creating an inclusive workplace for our LGBTQ community.

As companies continue to focus on inclusion, I think we’ll also see a greater impact on social change, starting internally and ballooning into community programs.  Employees are speaking and getting involved with issues that not only impact their work life but those in their communities.  The #MeToo movement is having a ripple effect on all types of workplace harassment.  We are seeing a reshape of cultural norms and the approach to educating the business world on what is acceptable.  And, more employees are asking for time to work with the greater community give back to causes that they have been emotionally invested in, making the changes companies make towards inclusion come full circle.

 

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