Addressing diversity and inclusion within your workplace is
more than just giving trainings and seminars and sending informational emails. Only
with true action will employees know that you’re addressing their concerns, and
it can take time to show them just how committed your business is to diversity.
Updating your employee benefits package to ensure that your
offerings are designed for the diverse workforce you’re looking to create and
foster is a crucial step in your business’ diversity efforts.
Here’s what you need to know about the different ways your
office can be inclusive, and how to design your benefits package for a truly
Types of Workplace Diversity
The term “diversity” doesn’t just refer to one thing, and it
takes many forms in the workplace and elsewhere. Types
of workplace diversity to consider when taking a look at your company data
and updating policies are:
Race and ethnicity
As you can see, diversity is more than ensuring half of your
employees are women, or that people of color are represented, though those are of
course important considerations. It’s also about avoiding any form of discrimination
based on age, gender, race, religion, or disability.
There are many factors to think about when creating your
diversity plan and updating business elements like benefits packages and
employee handbook policies.
What to Include in Your
First of all, remember that some applicable workplace laws
are made on a state-by-state basis, not on a federal level. Some attorneys recommend
going with the
most comprehensive protection plans out there, even if you’re not required
to do so in your state. This means you should update your policies to be in
compliance with these regulations.
One example is the protection of discrimination against sexual
orientation, which is not one of the included categories of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, sex discrimination is protected under the
act, and workers have been known to file lawsuits that argue their sexual
orientation cases under these protections instead.
As such, it’s a good idea to include in your policies that
discriminatory actions such as firing an employee because of his or her
mannerisms, or not treating a female employee fairly because she isn’t
“womanlike,” are prohibited, as they are forms of sex discrimination.
Other ways to update policies accordingly is to develop or
include gender-transitioning resources for employees, or to include the most
current, acceptable, and inclusive terminology in employee materials.
Designing Benefits For
a Diverse Workforce
The most important aspect of updating your benefits package
is making sure that the benefits offered are fair and equitable to all employees.
Let’s take a look at the ways in which you can revamp your benefits
offerings, in addition to your company policies. Think through these areas to
get started with building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
for Different Generations
Analyze the financial benefit offerings your company
currently provides, such as retirement contributions, student loan debt
assistance, and savings accounts. Are they more geared toward a younger
audience, or an older audience?
For example, student loan debt is an affliction that impacts
generations across the board, but research from Experian showed that Generation
X, who are between 39 and 54, has the
most student loan debt, with Baby Boomers in second (ages 55 to 73) and Millennials
third (ages 23 to 38). Although it may seem like the younger generations would
want benefits related to paying off their student loans, this is clearly an
issue that all generation struggle with.
Another financial consideration here is retirement benefits.
Baby Boomers are the closest to retiring, but research from the Insured
Retirement Institute (IRI) shows that 45% of people in this age group don’t
have any retirement savings. As such, retirement savings assistance
shouldn’t just be catered to the long-term. In addition, benefits like phased
retirement plans and medical programs for retirees can help this generation better
prepare for life after work.
Another way to address diversity within benefits is what you
offer for families. Important considerations in this category are:
Benefits for Same-Sex
Couples and Domestic Partners
Spousal healthcare coverage and other benefits have long
been offered to heterosexual couples. It’s now important to offer these benefits
for same-sex couples, in addition to couples who are in domestic
partnerships. This also means that parental or family leave benefits should apply
to these couples, even if they’re not legally married.
Because there are so many different perspectives,
experiences, and abilities that exist within your workforce, a crucial benefit to
provide is flexibility. Whether due to having children, a disability or
illness, or caring for a sick family member, flexible work options allow
employees to adapt their schedules and their location based on their personal needs.
However, this means that the flexibility benefits must apply to all employees
that require a different working arrangement, and cannot be implemented
unfairly. Employees should feel comfortable and never feel guilty about using
these benefits when they need them.
A major part of your benefits package is time off for
holidays. This has typically only included the major American holidays, both
religious and political. However, think about the employees within your company
that don’t celebrate the “mainstream” American holidays, who instead celebrate
holidays from their own cultural background.
Implement benefits that allow employees to take off the
holidays that are important to their culture or religion, and make it simple
for them to request these days off. One effective way to implement these
benefits is to offer “floating holidays” that employees can use however they
Ask Your Employees
Even with the best intentions, you won’t completely satisfy
your diverse workforce unless you allow them to speak up. An easy way for your
company to gain invaluable information about what workers care about and what
they want in their benefits packages is simply to ask them.
Send out surveys and ask for feedback. Ask them if they feel
like their needs are being recognized and respected, whatever they may be. Companies
often make a mistake when they assume that employees have certain wants, needs,
and beliefs, so it’s important to avoid those dangerous assumptions when
updating your benefits package. Instead, let employees tell you what’s most
important to them.
As you’re strategizing to create a more diverse and
inclusive workplace, making tangible within your benefits package is one
important way to keep your company on track. Remember:
There are many “types” of diversity within any
Create policies that offer the most protections
possible against discrimination, regardless of whether your local laws require
all of them.
Different generations have different financial
Offer family benefits like paid family leave and
dependent care assistance.
Make sure health insurance and other applicable benefits
are also offered for same-sex couples and domestic partners.
A range of flexibility options, like remote
working or flexible schedules, can help employees with family, disability, or
Not all employees celebrate the same holidays,
religious or not. Floating holidays can ensure that they take time off when
it’s applicable to their beliefs or culture.
Ask your employees directly what they want or
what they feel they are missing from their current benefits package.
Remember that your employee benefits package will only be designed for a diverse workplace if the offerings are applicable to everyone on your team. Avoid making assumptions about what’s important to your employees, and you’ll quickly be on your way to an inclusive, satisfying benefits package.
You may already know how valuable diversity and inclusion
(D&I) are to the satisfaction of your workforce and to your recruitment
efforts and ability to retain top talent. But did you know that these important
considerations can also pay off financially? And that D&I efforts can have
a significant impact on your workforce’s productivity?
Many Finance leaders are catching wind, as Deloitte’s 2019
CFO Signals survey showed that two-thirds
of finance heads from large companies said they now have a form D&I
strategy in place at their organizations.
So, aside from D&I being top priorities for businesses
because of the ethical and moral implications, it helps to recognize that there
are additional benefits for the business’ bottom-line as well. In this post we’ll
take a look at what the research shows about how D&I can help financial
professionals drive business value and profitability.
Driving the value of
It’s now becoming common knowledge that a more diverse and
inclusive workforce means stronger organizational performance. This can be
broken down into several categories, including retaining talent, employee
satisfaction and well-being, and greater workforce productivity.
Workplaces that focus on D&I efforts and take steps to make employees feel
more welcome tend to retain talent better than those that don’t. For example, a
report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation showed that 1
in 4 LGBTQ workers have stayed at a company because of an accepting
environment. And it makes sense—employees who feel unrecognized and excluded
are more likely to be unhappy with their job and ultimately, they will leave.
satisfaction. On a similar note, it’s important to emphasize that welcoming
workplace environments foster more satisfied employees. Modern workers want to work
in environments that not only don’t discriminate, but that also encourage openness about differences.
Gone are the days when biases and discrimination are the
norms in offices. Instead, creating inclusive, diverse environments drive business
value because employees will be more fulfilled by the work they’re doing. An
employee survey from Deloitte showed that there is a strong correlation between
employees being happy at work and feeling
valued by their company.
More diverse teams tend to be more productive as well. The combination of
differing perspectives make efforts more creative, and can open the eyes of
team members to views they wouldn’t be able to otherwise see themselves. With
more diverse skillsets, experiences, and ideas, organizations can produce and
create in more innovative ways.
In addition to creating a more valuable workforce, D&I efforts
have proven to contribute to increased profitability businesses as well.
Research from McKinsey & Company shows that companies that have more
racially and ethnically diverse workforces are 35%
more likely to have greater financial returns than industry medians, and
those with greater gender diversity are 15% more likely to see better returns.
McKinsey data also shows that in the U.S., for every 10%
increase in ethnic and racial diversity on the executive team, annual company earnings
rise roughly 1%.
A more recent study from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows
that companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams have a 20%
advantage in revenue from innovative products and services for their
companies over management teams with below-average diversity. These improved financial
results come from the varying perspectives and insights that diverse teams
bring to the table.
for addressing D&I in your organization
Clearly, there is a strong business case for a more intentional
and thoughtful approach to D&I at your business. Aside from the fact that
employees will be more satisfied and fulfilled, the business will likely perform
The strategies outlined below will help you get started with
your D&I initiatives and sustain your program’s success in the long-term.
1. Make sure the
strategy is known throughout the company
A good first step in addressing D&I is ensuring that the
entire company knows about your efforts and that it matters to you and the
entire executive team. Less than half of respondents in the Deloitte CFO
Signals survey indicated that their D&I strategy is known throughout the
company, so there’s still plenty of work to do in this area.
Start by sending around an email on these topics, initiating
regular trainings related to D&I, or bringing up issues during
company-wide, as well as departmental-wide, meetings.
2. Set up a
As with any company strategy, a measurement process will
hold you accountable and ensure that goals are being met. Try implementing
things like regular employee surveys, and actually measure your diversity
stats. Consider, who is underrepresented in each department’s management team? Gathering
this data will help you to measure if your efforts are actually working, and
you can update your strategy accordingly.
3. Update your hiring
These efforts go hand-in-hand with your HR department and
the company’s hiring policies. First make sure that D&I is fully integrated
into the employee handbook and other policy documents. This will make it clear
to employees that it is a serious matter that is given priority at your
Then, make sure that hiring and interviewing techniques
support these important policies. For example, what kind of questions are being
asked on applications? Or in interviews? You must ensure that every employee
the conducts interviews understands what type of interview questions are and
are not acceptable, especially when considering sensitive D&I topics.
4. Don’t be afraid to
Finally, as the CFO or head of finance, you help set the
example for much of the company. Part of being a genuine leader and exuding
integrity is admitting when something isn’t where it needs to be.
This means that if a diversity goal isn’t being met—for
example, if the company executive team includes solely older white males—you might
admit that this is something the company is working on addressing to integrate
more diverse perspectives. Then, you can show your workforce the strategies
you’re putting in place to fix things. These tactics show departments across
the board that you take D&I seriously and that you’re actually following
through on promises.
Good leaders know when to discuss a challenge area instead
of pretending like no areas for improvement exist.
D&I continues to drive high performance and profits for
companies across industries. As a financial leader within your organization,
it’s important that you realize the value D&I brings to any team, in
addition to the steps you can take to make it happen.
D&I helps increase business value by
retaining talent, increasing employee satisfaction, and driving productivity.
Your bottom line will thank you for your D&I
efforts, as more diverse workforces and executive teams mean more revenue and increased
No matter the numbers, diverse perspectives
bring invaluable expertise and viewpoints to teams to make them more creative
Implement D&I into your strategy by:
Distributing knowledge throughout the company
Setting up ways to measure success
Updating your approach to hiring and
Admitting there are areas for improvement within
the organization and creating a plan to improve these areas
In addition to these key takeaways, remember to always remain open to change and thus open to the broad range of perspectives that can exist within your company. This viewpoint alone will help you to give D&I the time and attention it deserves.
Growing companies are increasingly turning to diversity and inclusion, or D&I, initiatives to fuel their success. People are the ultimate drivers of business success and having the widest range of perspectives available to tackle business challenges is an invaluable asset to companies of all sizes. But small-to-mid-sized businesses are particularly strongly defined by the makeup of their employees.
Many businesses have D&I policies and procedures as a matter of course and treat it as a compliance issue or silo it in HR. But others are starting to put the principles of diversity and inclusion at the heart of everything that they do. And they’re seeing real results. Recent studies show that greater gender and racial diversity each are directly correlated with increased profitability and value creation. And companies with the most women and minorities in leadership positions are between 20-30% more likely to achieve above-average financial performance.
One of the companies that have gone above and beyond in their D&I efforts is Launchways client Tandem, a consultancy that focuses on developing custom software solutions for growing businesses. We spoke to Tandem CEO, JC Grubbs, about how and why he has tried to foster diversity at his startup and how these efforts have contributed to his business’s phenomenal success. As it turns out, businesses looking for ways to stand out from competitors and fuel innovation within their organization have a lot to gain from the lessons that Tandem has learned.
Why D&I Is A Top Priority for Tandem
Before delving into the business advantages of having a more diverse and inclusive team, it’s worth spending some time to consider the moral forces that influence businesses like Tandem to focus so much effort into D&I. Generally speaking, many employers feel a moral responsibility to take care of the employees who dedicate so much of their time and energy to growing their company, and that includes making sure that all employees feel welcome and receive fair treatment regardless of their backgrounds or demographics. Diversity and genuine inclusion are important elements of the positive company culture that so many business leaders want to maintain.
For JC, though, his moral obligation to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace at Tandem goes beyond these general principles. As a member of the LGBTQ community who has experienced first-hand both inclusive and non-inclusive environments work environments, he sees it as his duty to make sure that everyone feels welcome and included at Tandem.
Beyond moral considerations, D&I is just good business for companies like Tandem. The studies showing how diversity contributes to profitability and value creation are grounded in business realities that JC has seen at his company. Since starting the company in 2011, he has seen how Tandem’s products and the ways that the company executes its work dramatically improve as the team becomes more diverse. As JC says, “It has happened over time but as I look at the way that we’ve run engagements with clients, I see a continual improvement in that. Part of that comes from learning and process improvement but I attribute a significant portion of that to our efforts in bringing more diverse voices to the table in how we deliver work to our clients.”
So how has JC built such a diverse and productive team? A lot of it has to do with the way that Tandem brands itself and crafts its company culture.
Importance of Employer Branding
Authentic branding should represent who you want to be as a company not just how you want to be seen. With that principle in mind, Tandem recently underwent a significant branding effort, including adopting the name Tandem in place of DevMynd, to put the principles of diversity, inclusion, and human connection at the very core of the brand. This new brand emphasizes the company’s focus on the human side of software development: getting as many diverse voices and perspectives involved as possible to create unique solutions that fuel innovation.
A significant part of the D&I branding effort has focused on how Tandem features their employees on their website. The “Team” page plays a much stronger role in the site than for most companies, and Tandem has done several things differently to foster a sense of diversity and inclusion. The first thing that visitors will probably notice is that the page isn’t organized with the C-Suite at the top and lower-ranked team members as you scroll down. Instead, everyone is mixed together with the CEO and COO right in the middle so that leadership at the center, rather than the top, of the company. And each employee profile features an in-depth bio that helps potential clients and employees get to know the team, plus three photos including one featuring the employee’s favorite hobby to further humanize the team members.
It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of employer branding and featuring employees so heavily on the website. In fact, according to JC, branding and highlighting his team members has been the number one contributor to the increase in diversity at Tandem. One of the first things that people from underrepresented communities look at when they’re considering a potential employer is what the team looks like. As JC puts it, “When they go to your site and see people who look like them and when they read their bios, they read things that feel like them, it immediately puts them in a different frame of mind in terms of how they view you as an employer.”
The benefits don’t stop at attracting diverse and talented employees, either. Another driver for Tandem’s focus on their Team page and D&I branding is to celebrate their success in that area and the success of their team. Small-to-mid-sized businesses are ultimately just a conglomeration of their employees and it’s important that both potential employees and clients see the people they’re going to be working with and get a sense of what voices are going to be in the room. This can not only lead to productive partnerships but also prevent damaging missteps as it can drive away employees or clients who aren’t a good fit. As far as Tandem is concerned, they don’t want to work with employees or clients who do not want to work with a team like theirs, so the more public they make their diversity the better.
Tailoring the Employee Benefits Package for D&I
But branding can only go so far; the real measure of a business’s diversity and inclusion is how they treat their employees. For growing businesses, especially in the tech field, who lack the resources to compete with major companies in terms of salaries and bonuses, this means tailoring their benefits packages to attract talent and build a diverse and inclusive team.
At Tandem, this started with a comprehensive and fully employer-paid insurance package that provides 100% coverage for employees and their families on all major health aspects: medical, dental, vision, and more. Just last year, they added a telehealth program so that employees can get access to medical advice more quickly and easily; a benefit that especially appeals to employees with children.
Tandem tailored its other benefits to accommodate people who have responsibilities that aren’t tied to work, such as being the caretaker for aging parents or being parents themselves. They implemented a flexible time policy that lets employees set their own schedule as long as they are in the office for core work hours from 10:00am-4:00, give employees the option of working remotely one day a week, and allow employees to work from home on other days whenever the need arises. Despite being too small to be required to offer maternity leave under FMLA, Tandem also offers 8 weeks of new-parent leave for natural births and adoptions, on top of standard PTO. Having that flexibility and making sure that the flexibility is integrated into company policies and processes is an important step to support a diverse set of outside of work needs; another key element of D&I.
Tandem isn’t ready to stop there, either. They are already exploring two new potential benefits to better foster diversity and inclusion: fertility and gender transition support benefits. While they are still looking into costs and proper structures and have not pulled the trigger yet, they believe that it is important to think ahead and look beyond traditional benefits to see what you can and should do to support a more diverse set of employee needs.
Ongoing D&I Efforts and Accountability
The final lesson that growing businesses can take away from Tandem’s D&I success is that diversity and inclusion is a constantly evolving process and that it is important to reevaluate current practices to see if you’re doing the right things and if are there new areas that you should explore. In fact, Tandem’s CEO went so far as to say, “If I had any advice for other growing businesses it would be that D&I is not a one-and-done, ‘check all the boxes’ and then move on type of issue: you need to reexamine it on a continuing basis.”
So what should growing businesses who are dedicated to promoting D&I do to monitor and reexamine their efforts? Tandem conducts bi-annual employee satisfaction surveys and the CEO has a one-on-one with every employee at least annually so that Tandem can be sure that it is maintaining its culture, that its employees feel engaged and included, and that any issues can be identified and corrected. JC also decided to create a Culture and Inclusion committee made up of a wide range of employees that meets every quarter to review current practices, discuss possible initiatives, and generally steer the direction of the company’s D&I efforts.
This committee has been central to the successful integration of D&I into Tandem’s brand and operations. It was responsible for raising the possibility of providing fertility and gender transition support benefits after it worked with Launchways to determine what the current insurance covered and what opportunities for improvement were left on the table. It also looks at the public face of the company to see if it is sending the types of signals to job candidates, such as reviewing job descriptions to see if they appropriately emphasize inclusion or use language that can be interpreted as exclusionary.
Tandem also recently completed an ADA study of their physical office space to get a sense of what they need to do to support people who need access to the building in different ways. And Tandem is planning on publicly releasing career paths, complete with requirements to move up to each position and salary ranges for every position, to encourage transparency and fairness both internally and for potential employees. This is significant, because transparency is absolutely vital to fostering true diversity and inclusion.
Every company is unique, and its approach diversity and inclusion should be as well. But Tandem provides a compelling model of how companies can put the principles of D&I at the heart of their employer brand, benefits strategy, and processes to build a diverse and innovative team. Hopefully, you can apply some of the lessons that Tandem has learned to fuel your business’s growth. Just remember that:
• In addition to being morally right, diversity and inclusion is just good business and results in increased profits and business results
• Your employer brand defines how potential employees and clients see you, so making sure that it aligns with and celebrates diversity and inclusion can help you build an innovative workforce and productive partnerships
• Benefits are often the most concrete tool that employers have to foster D&I by accommodating a wide range of employee needs
• D&I is an ongoing process that requires constant reevaluation, accountability, and transparency
The LGBTQ community has yet to have full federal protection in the workplace against discrimination. In May 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which bans discrimination because of an employee’s sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, but the bill is resting with the Senate, who may decide not to pass it.
In your workplace, diversity and inclusion should be two main priorities, and adequately addressing these matters means that you are both recognizing and encouraging the LGBTQ community to feel open, safe, and normal living and working as they are.
Here are key reasons why you should take action to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce, and the ways to do it.
Impacts on the LGBTQ community when they feel excluded
It’s easy to see why LGBTQ workers would continue to feel excluded in the workplace. They often don’t feel understood or acknowledged, and they may feel like they’re not able to participate in normal discussions or activities because of the fear of being judged or stereotyped.
Many people in this community feel overly sexualized. Essentially what this means is that when it becomes known that they have a certain “nontraditional” sexual orientation, they become their sexual identity, instead of coworkers seeing them for themselves and their work capabilities.
This feeling of exclusion leads to negative feelings and even lack of productivity at work: 25% of LGBTQ workers report feeling distracted from work, as the Human Rights Campaign report shows, 17% report feeling exhausted from having to hide their sexual orientation, and 31% report feeling unhappy or depressed at work.
Why encourage openness and acceptance?
According to the aforementioned report, 46% of workers who identify as LGBTQ remain closeted, and half of those surveyed said that there aren’t any employees at their organization who are open about it.
While it’s of course not always a great idea to have everyone discuss or admit to their sexual experiences in the workplace, the reasons behind staying closeted show how fearful a non-inclusive workplace can be for this community. The top reasons that they stay closeted are:
• The potential to be stereotyped by coworkers
• To avoid making others feel uncomfortable
• To avoid losing connections or relationships
• To avoid coworkers thinking they are attracted to them because they are LGBTQ
Make sure in your efforts to encourage openness that you aren’t forcing LGBTQ workers to disclose things they aren’t comfortable with; the key is to educate staff and have serious discussions about these topics. If they aren’t talked about, LGBTQ workers will feel like they have to remain closeted. And while some topics are “supposed to be” taboo at work, like sex or politics, the truth is, many employees talk about their lives outside of work on a daily basis with their coworkers.
Why educate employees?
It’s also important to keep all employees educated about policies and aware of how best to behave in the workplace. You aren’t telling them what to believe, just how to represent the company and treat others while they’re on your watch.
Many employees may just not be aware of these issues, and so they may not even recognize that their behavior is out of line or could be offensive to their coworkers. It’s your responsibility to thus educate them so that they are more thoughtful and deliberate about how they treat certain topics and talk to each other at work.
The Workplace Divided report revealed an additional alarming statistic in this area: 1 in 5 LGBTQ workers have experienced being told by a coworker that they should dress either more feminine of masculine; only 1 in 24 non-LGBTQ workers reported this having ever happened to them. Additionally, 36% of non-LGBTQ employees said that they would feel uncomfortable if an LGBTQ coworker started talking about their dating life.
So, there is clearly still a bias in place that needs to be addressed in each and every workplace. Part of ensuring you are fostering an inclusive and diverse office is educating everyone to get them thinking about their behavior and the way they treat others.
Benefits of inclusivity for your company
Your LGBTQ workers will not be the only ones who benefit from addressing these issues. Think about the benefits your organization will also experience: • Less discrimination lawsuits and therefore less in legal fees • Less turnover, as 1 in 4 LGBTQ workers said they stayed in a job because the workplace was accepting of LGBTQ people • Health insurance costs may go down because the health of all employees is given more consideration • Partnerships could increase as your company becomes known as a socially responsible organization
Another big reason to address discrimination and encourage inclusivity and diversity in the workplace is because a more diverse office is a more profitable office. A study from Boston Consulting Group last year found that companies with above-average diversity on management teams earn 19% more in revenue than companies with below-average diversity on these teams.
Why? Because diverse teams create diverse perspectives; gone are the days of the bureaucracy, where one team of older white men makes all the decisions for an organization. For any company to grow and succeed, diversity, and therefore greater inclusivity, are assets.
Additional strategies to foster inclusivity and diversity in the workplace
So where should you begin? Try implementing these strategies to foster inclusivity and better educate the workforce about discrimination and how to create accepting, inclusive workplaces: • Talk about how detrimental stereotyping can be, in general and also related to someone’s gender or sexuality. • Share statistics similar to those presented in this article to show employees how important these issues really are for a functioning workplace. • Engage with learning materials that present workplace scenarios so that employees can learn how to approach certain topics and actually visualize how to behave to encourage inclusivity. • Always stress the importance of diversity and make sure the executive team shares with the company about efforts they are taking in these areas (for example, those in charge should admit when they become aware of areas they could improve, such as diversifying the board of directors). • Provide resources for LGBTQ workers if they experience harassment or discrimination from coworkers, or if they just need someone to talk to, like an HR representative or counselor. • Implement actual company policies that protect workers against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Make sure these policies are distributed to all employees and are available for reference.
• Because discrimination rights based on sexuality continue to stall on a federal level, take action in your individual workplace
• If the LGBTQ community feels excluded in the workplace, they’re more likely to leave and are more likely to feel unhappy or depressed at work
• Encourage openness and acceptance at work so that LGBTQ workers don’t feel like they have to remain closeted to be liked
• Educate employees, especially non-LGBTQ workers, so that they are aware of these issues and are better aware of how to behave
• Recognize the financial and productivity benefits that an inclusive and diverse workplace provides
• Create support systems and company policies that address these issues
When you’re able to educate and encourage, and foster diversity and inclusivity—teaching your employees what they mean, why they’re important, and how they help the entire workplace—your company culture will shift toward being more socially aware and responsible.
A Williams Institute study in 2018 found that 4.5% of the U.S. population self-reported identifying as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender). The real number is probably much higher, as diversity and inclusion expert Stephanie Huckel’s work suggests as many as 46% of LGBTQ professionals feel compelled to hide who they truly are in the workplace, which means any formal study probably skews quite low in terms of representation.
Any successful HR professional or C-suite executive knows that no team member, no matter how intelligent, focused, and driven can truly do their best work in an environment where they don’t feel safe to be themselves. Maximizing productivity and buy-in from LGBTQ employees and their allies requires creating an environment where people are valued and protected in a way that’s both inclusive and transcendent of their sexuality or gender identity.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
• The unique legal position of LGBTQ professionals
• Why LGBTQ-inclusive policies build a stronger, better organization
• Some general guidance for creating LGBTQ-inclusive practices
Addressing the Additional Stress on LGBTQ Professionals
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender professionals have disproportionately felt the pain of discrimination in hiring, firing, and promotion scenarios and continue to deal with explicit or exclusionary workplace harassment, even as it has universally unacceptable to target other protected groups in similar ways.
Some HR leaders and organizations find it hard to understand why their policies and procedures need to contain explicit language about LGBTQ non-discrimination or contain specific guidance about potential issues like homophobic harassment or gender transition procedures. The unfortunate current state of affairs is that LGBTQ professionals receive only patchy, implied federal protections, which means that unless their employers take a strong, proactive, supportive stance, their employment status can feel extremely vulnerable.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects individuals from gender or sex discrimination, but only conventional interpretation extends those protections beyond the definitions of “sex” and “gender” that were understood in 1964, when the law was written. While there have been efforts to expand the language of Title VII to create explicit protections for LGBTQ individuals, that work is currently stalled.
Those prevailing interpretations mean that LGBTQ professionals can file harassment or discrimination claims with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunities Commission), but that is a long, expensive process that often draws out the agony of harassment and can potentially negatively impact the victim’s future career prospects.
That inconsistent or just-implied federal support leaves an incredible spectrum of different professionals feeling like they have less agency and recourse in the workplace than their non-LGBTQ peers. With that said, almost half the states in the country have created laws that protect against gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination for both public and private workers.
• Western States with LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination Protections: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico
• Midwestern States with LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination Protections: Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois
• Eastern States with LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination Protections: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C.
Businesses operating within any of those states are held to a reasonably high standard for LGBTQ inclusion, with a framework in place for wronged individuals to gain the protection of the court system and punish businesses for discriminatory practices or creating a culture of normalized harassment.
With that said, even in those states, the existence of a legal framework for recourse does not mean the non-existence of harassment or discrimination. Preventing those initial hurtful episodes still falls to each individual employer or workplace, and the businesses who master creating a fully-inclusive workplace will win over the trust and gain the ability to leverage the incredible skills of the LGBTQ workforce.
On the other hand, for LGBTQ citizens of the other 29 states, there is incredible need for either public or private protections. Some counties or cities have passed local non-discrimination laws to provide protections for their LGBTQ workforce and residents, but that means job hunting for many involves using a map of potential landing places that looks like Swiss cheese.
In areas where no public protections exist, LGBTQ professionals must rely on their employers to create, maintain, and enforce their own policies and procedures to prevent harassment and eliminate discrimination. Given both the historic struggles of the LGBTQ community and the historic struggles between employers and workers, it’s easy to see why many feel extremely cynical or insecure in that position.
With that said, businesses in those areas with no public protections who forge meaningful, inclusive policies that invite LGBTQ workers to be themselves, feel comfortable in their work space, and get powerful back-up from their employer have the opportunity to get first pick at an incredible pool of business-driving talent.
From an organizational perspective, LGBTQ inclusion is much bigger than the basic decency of protecting employees from discrimination and harassment. It’s about creating an environment where assessments of someone’s proficiency, abilities, and strengths or weaknesses are made based on performance data and demonstrated results, not assumptions. It’s about fostering a community where everybody’s insights, perspectives, and strengths are leveraged to the maximum through positive interdependence, shared goals, and empathy.
When businesses do that right, they set themselves up to win big in a few different ways. Let’s pause to explore how LGBTQ-inclusion is a matter of best practice.
It’s the Right Thing to Do Profit has historically been valued above “doing the right thing” for businesses, especially large ones, but that’s starting to change culturally. In the current atmosphere, it’s more important than ever to consumers (and therefore the bottom line) that businesses operate in an inclusive manner.
Directly aligning a business or brand with strong, progressive values is no longer seen as a boat-shaking move that could scare off customers; on the contrary, numerous large businesses have seen themselves called out by consumers and advocacy groups in recent years for failing to articulate inclusive policies.
By being proactive about LGBTQ inclusion, a business shows their employees, prospective employees, investors, competitors, consumers, and the market in general that they’re concerned with talent, not exclusion.
Building Authentic Buy-In from Workers Given the high percentage of LGBTQ workers who do not feel comfortable sharing their status in the workplace and the number of employees who do not report incidents in which they’re made to feel uncomfortable, it’s impossible to truly quantify how much productivity, innovation, and morale are lost each year due to inclusion gaps. With that said, any number is too high.
By creating a strong, supportive environment where inclusion feels like a true value and not just a legal concern, organizations can invite workers to feel both more invested and safer in a way that leads to better work and a healthier environment. When employers feel like allies and not just bosses, there’s more incentive to invest in the work and succeed together.
Equipping Leadership with the Tools to Solve Problems When businesses aren’t proactive about policy, they often find themselves dealing with problems they don’t really have the tools to solve. On the other hand, proactive planning means that when a negative scenario (such as a problematic employee) does present itself, there is a procedure in place by which the problem can be handled and removed in a way that is richly-documented and will hold up in court.
Staying Ahead of Regulation Depending on the outcomes of upcoming elections, significant increases in federal and local protections for LGBTQ professionals could be on the horizon. Businesses that have already articulated internal policies and created a strong, inclusive environment will be able to transition smoothly into whatever new framework might be created, while organizations that lagged behind get into dragged into accountability and regulation leave themselves vulnerable to potentially costly and reputation-damaging disasters.
In the world of business, it’s always important to be perceived as an innovator on the cutting edge. In the new talent marketplace and culture, being a human rights innovator is just as important as being a financial innovator. Inclusion is just one more way that a business can be ahead of the game in the quest to connect with talent and maximize organizational reputation.
Guidelines for Creating an LGBTQ-Inclusive Environment
Building a company that wins through inclusion requires long-term commitment, vision, and strategy, but here are a few tips to help guide organizations looking to articulate LGBTQ inclusion policies and procedures:
Policy creation • Nomenclature: It’s important everybody in the workplace uses appropriate, professional terminology. Company policies should spell out acceptable and unacceptable terms and establish clear guidelines for workplace conversations. Furthermore, guidelines for appropriate pronoun use should be created and enforced for transgender and non-binary workers. • Clearly articulated harassment/discrimination guidelines: As we said before, in order to create a strong, inclusive environment, businesses need to give themselves the tools to enforce the culture of inclusion and weed out bad apples in a richly documented, legally appropriate way. -Reporting process – It’s not enough to say, “discrimination and harassment are bad;” it’s essential to have a well-organized, transparent, and trustworthy system that employees know how to use to report issues. -Staffing for support – Policies need to be backed up by human faces who are dedicated to inclusion, equality, and building the best possible workplace culture. Working with a trusted HR partner such as Launchways can connect your team with actionable equality policies while mitigating the need for your business to hire an in-house support person. • Ensuring there are no employee benefits gaps for LGBTQ professionals -Comprehensive healthcare coverage that connects transgender, non-binary, or intersex professionals with the doctors they need is essential to keep the workforce healthy and provide equality. -Transition support programs for transgender individuals must be available. -Life insurance and other policies that account for non-binary identities and non-heteronormative concepts of family must be available.
Employee Training • New Employee Orientation must introduce LGBTQ inclusion policies and hold hires accountable for knowing them. • Allow for an evolving world by having a dedicated HR professional stay up to date on emerging themes and issues of LGBTQ inclusion and providing on-going professional development or training as needs are identified. • Authenticity is required for employee education to really work. Meaningful role play and powerful, relevant speakers are required to make laggards take these issues seriously. • Documentation of training creates a strong framework for accountability.
Fostering an Inclusive Culture • Show organizational dedication to LGBTQ inclusion by adopting a relevant cause, raising money for a relevant charity, or raising awareness of LGBTQ issues in your local community. • Create a welcoming, positive environment where people are treated as human beings with dignity and valuable assets with potential and skills. • Make HR a driving force in pushing both leadership and rank-and-file workers to make inclusion, diversity, and LGBTQ rights key values.
LGBTQ inclusion is one of the most important issues facing businesses in the current climate. In order to connect with and retain great talent, organizations must demonstrate their commitment to fully supporting each individual worker in their professional journey, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. With potentially increased regulation looming, the businesses that are proactive will be the ones who articulate the best policies and align their corporate cultures with the winds of change.
• LGBTQ professionals current receive patchy federal and state protection from workplace discrimination -This can make the workplace a place of increased stress and anxiety, which means workers can’t be their best selves • Regardless of local laws, businesses who proactively adopt LGBTQ-inclusive policies set themselves up to win with talent and build a future-facing organization • Policies must be articulated clearly and explicitly designed with the needs, challenges, and support of LGBTQ professionals in mind in order to truly make a difference
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