June is L.G.B.T.Q.+ Pride month, a time to commemorate The Stonewall riots in June 1969. But every day is the time to support L.G.B.T.Q.+ and Black Lives Matter. While much progress has been made since then, studies show that if you’re an L.G.B.T.Q.+ employee, you share some of the same concerns of recrimination and stigmatization as those struggling with mental illness in the workplace: fear your boss would treat you differently, question your ability to function in your position, discriminate against you, or pass you over for promotions and pay raises.
McKinsey launched the How the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community fares in the workplace report last year, revealing challenges L.G.B.T.Q.+ employees face and actionable steps employers can take to help them bring their authentic selves to the workplace:
- Coming out is especially challenging for junior employees.
- Only one-third of L.G.B.T.Q.+ survey respondents below the level of senior manager reported being out to most of their colleagues.
- One in five of the L.G.B.T.Q.+ senior leaders we surveyed is not broadly out at work.
- Women are far less likely to be out.
- Only 56% of L.G.B.T.Q.+ women are out to most colleagues. One reason: existing gender discrimination.
- People who are open about being L.G.B.T.Q.+ often have to come out repeatedly.
- Nearly half of L.G.B.T.Q.+ respondents reported having to come out at work at least once a week during the previous month.
- One in five respondents had to come out multiple times a week, and one in 10 said they had to come out on a daily basis.
- Company policies can make life harder for L.G.B.T.Q.+ employees.
- Only about half of Fortune 500 companies provide benefits for domestic partners.
- Fewer than two-thirds offer trans-inclusive healthcare coverage. L.G.B.T.Q.+ employees may also face hurdles qualifying for parental leave.
How can the workplace catch up?
Although we’ve come a long way since the 1960s, we still have a long way to go to abolish ignorance, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace. Here are 10 actions employees and employers can consider to help create equality for L.G.B.T.Q.+ workers:
1. Educate yourself on the L.G.B.T.Q.+ population, not what you’ve learned from bathroom jokes, religious condemnations, or media stereotypes. If you don’t have gay, lesbian, or transgender co-workers or acquaintances, read up about them or speak with friends or family members who know more than you do. You won’t have to look very far.
2. Raise awareness among employees that June has been designated L.G.B.T.Q.+ Pride Month by posting signs, sending memos, or making announcements at regularly scheduled meetings. Consider mentioning some of the activities that are happening locally, nationally, and worldwide.
3. Be sensitive and respectful to all gender orientations and identities, and don’t make assumptions. It’s a common practice for people to assume a co-worker or a client is of your same sexual orientation, marital status, or religious persuasion. Case in point: When a lesbian friend of mine had a pre-op interview for surgery, the nurse asked, “Who will be on-site to drive you home?” The patient answered, “My spouse.” The nurse responded, “What’s his name?” This common assumption continues to be made by businesses and puts L.G.B.T.Q.+ clients and workers in the awkward position of correcting you for your assumption, and you feeling bad for making it. What can seem like a minor issue is actually symptomatic of a larger issue for discussion in the workforce. When it comes to getting the job done, it doesn’t matter, anyway, but if it really matters to you, you might want to look into why it’s that important.
4. Lead by example. Your support doesn’t have to be grandiose. Sometimes subtle and simple work best. Without grandstanding, you can demonstrate openness with your own sensitivities regarding inclusion and support for all people at work, especially people who are not like you. If you’re an employer, you can announce that neither homophobia nor sexual harassment of any kind will be tolerated in your work environment.
5. Speak out if a co-worker uses offensive verbal comments, tells a disparaging joke about an L.G.B.T.Q.+ person, or shows homophobia about another employee in your workplace. It’s important to let the person know that such actions are inappropriate in a professional setting.
6. Make sure your employee handbook is up to date and inclusive and that your company specifically references sexual orientation and inclusive of all chosen genders and pronouns in anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. An anti-discrimination policy might look something like this: “The employer is an ‘equal opportunity employer.’ The employer will not discriminate and will take affirmative action measures to ensure against discrimination in employment, recruitment, advertisements for employment, compensation, termination, upgrading, promotions, and other conditions of employment against any employee or job applicant on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
7. Consider a welcoming sign if your company serves the public that welcomes patrons of difference and diversity, such as one at the entrance to one of my favorite restaurants in Asheville, N.C.: “We welcome all cultures, all religions, all colors, all beliefs, all ages, all sizes, all types, all people.”
8. Request that professional conferences you attend post notices on bathroom doors and around the conference center about anti-harassment. It has become customary at many business conferences, where diverse groups of people convene, to raise the awareness of attendees with such notices: This facility is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for everyone at its conferences. We do not tolerate the harassment of attendees in any form. Violators of this Anti-Harassment Policy may be sanctioned or expelled from the event at the discretion of the event organizers.
9. Establish all-gender or gender-neutral restrooms, so employees can use the facilities they find most comfortable.
10. Provide a family leave policy that treats all parents equally, health insurance that covers hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery for those employees seeking to transition, and medical leave for colleagues who are transitioning.
The past month has made it even more apparent that companies in support of diversity and inclusion efforts can no longer get by on words alone — they will be held accountable for taking measurable short-and long-term actions. As we close out Pride month, McKinsey’s research is not only relevant but a necessary reminder for companies as many begin to reimagine the workplace environment.