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5 Rules For Building a Welcoming Workplace For LGBTQ+ Employees


Creating a more inclusive work environment starts at the top. 

The work world is changing all around us. From forced remote working situations to new technologies to novel ways of working with our teams, there is a wave of change within our world that doesn't have an end in sight. But all these "new normal" workplace situations aside, let's focus on those changes we want to create, especially as it relates to our workplace culture being more inclusive.

For many of us, being our authentic selves and "fitting in" isn't necessarily a breeze in the workplace. A recent Human Rights Campaign study found that 46 percent of LGBTQ employees say they're closeted at work--down four percentage points over the past 10 years.

Of those employees surveyed, 53 percent said they heard jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once in a while, 41 percent heard trans-specific jokes, and 37 percent heard bisexual-specific jokes. Meanwhile, 31 percent of LGBTQ workers said they have felt unhappy or depressed at work. And one in five LGBTQ employees reported having been told (or had coworkers imply) they should dress in a more masculine or feminine way.

One legitimate question is: Why don't these employees report the negative comments they hear about LGBTQ people to a supervisor or human resources? The top reasons
are that we don't think anything would be done about it--and we don't want to hurt existing relationships with coworkers.

As a consultant, I have the opportunity to glimpse into many corporate cultures. I've seen businesses tout corporate values like a work-life balance, yet still expect employees to work 60-plus hours a week. I've seen organizations say, "We celebrate diversity!" yet all senior leaders were middle-aged white dudes.

Alternatively, I've seen businesses say, "We want to make the world a better place" and remain true to their word by organizing philanthropic efforts and promoting employees' volunteerism.

Regardless of company size, for business owners and managers it's important to look at corporate culture and see how inclusive it is of all people, especially LGBTQ workers. If you want to find (or create) a more inclusive workplace culture, here are five top factors to consider.

1. The Leadership

What does the leadership look like? What do the leaders do (and not just say) to promote inclusivity? Is their language truly inclusive? What's the demographic makeup of the leadership team, and does it fairly represent the rest of the organization?

2. The Corporate Policies

Does the organization include policies referring to same-sex couples? Does it include health care specifically for trans employees? And does the company's nondiscrimination policy include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression?

3. The Real Corporate Values

Using the criteria above, what are the organization's real values--the ones on display every day? Are they the ones listed on the organization's website, or are they different? Is there obvious alignment between what the organization says it does and what it really does?

4. Structural Support for Inclusivity

Is there a head of diversity and inclusion in the organization? What do they do? Is it their full-time gig? Does diversity to them simply mean, "Let's celebrate Pride month!" or does it go deeper? Does the organization have an employee resource group dedicated to LGBTQ workers and their allies? Do they have management and HR support?

5. External Efforts

Does the organization market or communicate directly to the LGBTQ community? When same-sex marriage became legal, what did the organization do to support or hinder its progress? When certain groups threaten the rights of LGBTQ people outside of the workplace (like at the state or federal level), does the organization (and its leadership) stand up or remain silent?

Change starts with you, whether your goal is to simply find a decent place to work or you're striving to be an LGBTQ leader in your own company. Anyone can be a champion of change and inclusivity. If you've realized your workplace isn't so inclusive, pick one of the areas above where you can exercise your influence and be that champion of change within your business. Great leadership usually starts at the top, but you can be a leader and changemaker no matter your title.

Dr. Steve Yacovelli is author of Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle and is owner and principal of TopDog Learning Group LLC. (

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Dr. Steve Yacovelli