Business leaders have a responsibility not only to drive financial success, but also to create inclusive and supportive environments for their employees. In recent years, the importance of allyship for LGBTQ+ individuals has gained considerable attention – for good reason. Being an active ally is not only the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, but it also delivers tangible business benefits.
For example, GLAAD’s 2023 Accelerating Acceptance study found, “70% of non-LGBTQ adults agree companies should publicly support the LGBTQ community through hiring practices, advertising and/or sponsorships.” Clearly, advocacy has a strong bottom line business impact and many organizations lag behind the generally-held sentiment of a majority of Americans.
In other words, the support of LGBTQ+ employees and fostering LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace is not a theoretical pursuit. Any executive not taking these steps is exposing their organizations to risk from clients, consumers, employees and other stakeholders who are demanding that they live up to the organizational values they claim to embrace.
All the rainbow flags in the world and Pride programming can’t cover for a leader or organization who is merely giving lip service to allyship as a performative exercise. Instead, consider these actionable measures that can be used to foster an inclusive culture:
– First and foremost, it is crucial to recognize that coming out is a personal journey that should never be forced upon anyone. Each person’s decision to share their sexual orientation or gender identity is deeply personal. It is essential to respect their autonomy. Our role as allies is to create a safe and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable being their authentic selves.
– One of the most important actions allies can take is to speak up when witnessing discrimination or hearing derogatory remarks. Silence is not the best option. By addressing such behavior promptly and firmly, leaders send a clear message that discrimination will not be tolerated. Inclusive language is also vital. Using LGBTQ+ inclusive language demonstrates respect and acknowledges the diversity of identities within the workforce.
– Investing in LGBTQ+ inclusion education is another key step in fostering an inclusive workplace. Providing initial and ongoing training on LGBTQ+ issues, general workplace inclusion, and specific areas like client/customer-facing roles helps raise awareness, build empathy and promote a more inclusive culture. Education programming should cover topics such as gender identity, sexual orientation and the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. This effort equips teams with the knowledge and tools to navigate these issues sensitively and respectfully.
– Establishing an LGBTQ+ organizational Employee Resource Group (ERG) or affinity group is a powerful way to create a supportive community within the workplace. These groups offer a platform for LGBTQ+ employees and allies to come together, share experiences and provide valuable insights and feedback. ERGs also contribute to recruiting and retaining diverse talent through a real-world demonstration of an organization’s commitment to inclusivity.
– Executives can immediately ask for a review of workplace policies and practices to ensure the organization adheres to local, state and national laws and regulations. This includes reviewing bereavement policies, caregiver/parental leave policies and ensuring that medical insurance and care options are affirming and inclusive. There are underlying culture topics that should also be addressed, including implementing robust anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies that explicitly address LGBTQ+ discrimination. Inclusive language training and usage can also help create an environment where everyone feels seen and respected.
– Being an ally extends beyond company walls. Leaders can demonstrate the organization’s values by sponsoring LGBTQ+ focused organizations and events in the workplace and its broader community. Company executives must educate themselves regarding anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and actively challenge it. This can involve reaching out to elected officials, participating in protests or engaging in advocacy efforts to promote equality and fairness.
– Leaders can also form partnerships with local education and medical organizations and officials to address any exclusionary policies, forms, lessons or practices that may perpetuate discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. Advocating for inclusive practices in these institutions contributes to creating a more accepting society.
– Allyship at work has a natural benefit, it extends into one’s personal life in both families and communities. There are important steps an individual can take to demonstrate allyship more broadly, ranging from being mindful of using inclusive language to embracing inclusive marketing and shopping at companies that are authentic in their support.
– Finally, it is crucial for leaders to look inward. These can be difficult, emotional conversations and reflections. Despite these challenges, the potential for positive change is strong when a person surrounds themselves with diverse people, engages in conversations with those from different backgrounds and actively seeks out diverse perspectives. These kinds of conversations lead to overcoming biases and stereotypes and create a more just and equitable world.
Active allyship for LGBTQ+ employees is the right thing to do and makes strong financial sense for business leaders. Creating inclusive workplaces where employees feel safe, respected and valued unlocks the workforces’s full potential. A short list of benefits includes: increased employee engagement, improved talent acquisition and retention, enhanced creativity and innovation and a stronger brand reputation. This inclusive future drives positive change in our organizations and communities.
Susie Silver is a certified diversity executive, senior consultant, innovation strategist and LGBTQ+ inclusion specialist at The Diversity Movement. She works collaboratively with clients to create future-focused, employee-centered cultures and better business outcomes through a DEI lens.
Pride Month is a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and their achievements, but it is also a time to reflect on the work that still needs to be done to ensure that all LGBTQ+ people are treated with dignity and respect. Support the LGBTQ+ community all year round by exploring our full collection of LGBTQ+ inclusion resources in TDM Library.