Written By: Kerrie O’Neill (She/her) Chief Program Officer LGBT Network
In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres came out as her sitcom character and as herself. Within the year, her sitcom was canceled, and she did not work again for years. 26 years later, coming out in the workplace must be significantly better, right? The answer is complicated. In some ways, yes. Some industries have Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Initiatives that include sexual orientation and gender identity. Some states have LGBT employee protections. However, here is what the data says:
- The workplace is still hostile. According to a 2021 national study by the Williams Institute, two-thirds (68%) of LGBT employees still hear negative comments about LGBT people at work. Nearly half (46%) experience unfair treatment at work related to their LGBT identity.
- The workplace is still not retaining LGBT talent. More than one-third (34%) left a job due to anti-LGBT treatment by their employer.
- LGBT people still do not feel safe coming out at work. 50% are not out to their supervisor and 26% are not out to any co-workers at all.
Research shows that being out at work is good for employees and good for business. Out employees thrive in the workplace – they create deeper bonds with colleagues, exhibit more commitment, are more likely to stay and grow within the company. Companies with a high LGBT Equality Index or other indicator of LGBT-inclusivity have higher productivity, higher retention, and are more profitable. So, how can we improve our workplace culture so that LGBT employees feel safe to be out? Here are 5 simple steps to get started:
- Visibility: Display rainbow safe space stickers or progress pride flags in offices, lobbies, or other common areas as a clear visual that your business is safe for LGBT employees and patrons.
- Professional Development: Invite in LGBT speakers. Mandate LGBT sensitivity in your onboarding and ongoing professional development practices.
- Pronoun Usage: Invite employees to share their pronouns in their email signature, Zoom or MS Teams name, social media profile, and/or business cards.
- Mindful Language: Encourage employees to use gender neutral language (e.g., “spouse” instead of “husband or wife”; “that person” instead of “him or her”) until they learn what terms a person uses to describe themselves.
- Inclusive Policies: Include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in your zero tolerance non-discrimination policies. And post it widely, so staff and constituents are aware!
And as a critical bonus step: Commit Year-Round! Demonstrate LGBT-inclusion beyond just Pride month in June. There are countless ways to remain involved and actively affirming throughout the year such as National Coming Out Day (NCOD) in October or Transgender Day of Visibility in March. Our employees, clients, and patrons are LGBT 365 days a year, so our LGBT DEIB efforts need to be as well.
About the Author:
Kerrie O’Neill, LMSW, (she/her) is Chief Program Officer at LGBT Network.
An out-and-proud lesbian, she has more than 25 years’ experience in social work, with over 15 of them dedicated to creating safer spaces for LGBT people. LGBT Network is a non-profit organization that is both a human services provider and advocacy agency for LGBT people of all ages, with multiple community centers across Long Island and Queens, NY. www.lgbtnetwork.org