Overcoming Workplace Challenges Affecting the LGBTQIA Community
In my experience both as a member of the LGBTQIA (LGBT+) community and as the Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) for Conduent, I see and experience some of the challenges facing the LGBT+ workforce every day. Many of those challenges are around things like:
- Being free from workplace discrimination
- Feeling free to express gender identity or sexual orientation without repercussion
- Struggling to feel fully included, whether due to policy or workplace attitudes
- Unfair compensation rates or promotion opportunities, compared to those not in the community
These are real challenges and there is an overall lack of equity for this community in the workplace. The issues are not new and are widely known and discussed. Yet, there is still an opportunity for corporations to overcome the chasm of disparity that exists around these issues, for the betterment of themselves and their entire employee population.
So, how do we overcome the chasm? The solutions are not simple or easy, but they’re vital to creating a place of employment where everyone can show up authentically every day. In doing so, an organization can become a competitive force to be reckoned with — one with the desire to leverage all parts of itself at all times and one that is ensures its employees equitable opportunities in every possible way.
While there is no catch-all approach to creating a work environment that supports and ensures full equality and non-discrimination for our LGBT+ workforce, I am confident of the impact that can be made by aggressively building focus on a few key strategic and programmatic areas.
Write the Right Policies
A company's approach to HR policy is one of the single loudest voices in the corporate culture. It speaks volumes about the value the company places on its people. HR policies filter down into every aspect of an employee's life — at work and home. It is a key driver for many when selecting what company to align to and lend their talents. It can remove obstacles and potential burdens from one's personal life or it can create barriers and heavy financial burdens that can distract and detract from one's ability to be completely present and give their full selves each day.
One example is policy on providing equitable healthcare to same-sex couples. If a person is in a same-sex partnership or marriage and does not have the ability to provide coverage for the entire family, the result could be devastating — from financial burdens to potentially being forced to seek additional employment to the inability to take necessary time from work to care for family, especially if a member of the family suffers from illness. There is an inescapable link to proper healthcare coverage and an employee's ability to be high-functioning and fully present in the workplace.
Compensation and overall promotion and equity practices are another prominent demonstration of how a company values its people and directly impacts one's own perceived value and ability for future growth and stability. Having a compensation policy that begins as being competitive, fair and equitable to all is non-negotiable for any company striving for success and growth. Ensuring that policy is applied consistently in a fair and equitable approach for all is an absolute requirement. It’s one that should be aggressively managed through data analysis, employee engagement and understanding, and a clear stance on policy enforcement — both internally and externally.
Policies around the hiring process are another opportunity companies have to demonstrate, right from the start, that they are fully supportive and inclusive of the LGBT+ workforce. Assessing the relevance of asking about gender at the time of application is an example of a good, healthy policy review. Companies can adjust the wording of the question and/or provide free-form or additional options to female or male.
Each example above requires a long-term, strategic commitment to change and inclusion from a policy perspective. Bureaucracy and sometimes dogged pursuit of creating current policy aligned with historical policy are real challenges that corporate leaders may face in enacting this type of change. In my role at Conduent, I have built this type of change into my strategy. I also have a keen awareness that I am not alone in the work I do or the priorities I’ve made — neither at Conduent nor in the world. We all have a responsibility to force change and inclusion and make my examples (and hopefully this entire blog) irrelevant in the near future.
My personal and professional experiences have shown that a common experience for some in the LGBT+ community is a struggle to feel safe and included in the majority population, especially at work. Something as innocuous as a conversation about weekend plans can be a minefield for one who is not out at work or who is in a culture where discrimination or exclusion are not managed. Concerns may range from a nervousness of peers' visual or verbal response when discussing a spouse or partner, children, or friends within the community, to a real fear of retribution — be it professional or physical.
The good news is we can impact these challenges in a big way through employee resource groups. Resource groups are one of the most one of the most powerful engines a company can have for diversity and inclusion. I know firsthand — from current and past work experiences — the power of resource groups. Prior to being a leader in D&I, I found an LGBT+ resource group at a previous company and it changed my life in every way. It allowed me to meet people who would become the very best friends I have ever known. It exposed me to other LGBT leaders who demonstrated a path to leadership that allowed me to see myself in the same way. It made me feel safe at work and know with absolutely certainty where my company stood on my community. LGBT+ resource groups are a strong start to opening and keeping the conversation and focus on inclusion going in a company. They are a manifestation of a company's openness and desire for their LGBT+ population to be heard and supported.
Inclusion can also be fostered through learning programs and should be a key strategic priority. The great news is that inclusion-centered learning does not only benefit the LGBT+ community! Training around conscious and unconscious bias and leveraging differences are two examples that not only create a path to resolve some of the aforementioned challenges, but can also address disparity or challenges around gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age or any other real or perceived differences.
Join the Conversation
Overcoming the challenges facing the LGBT+ community in the workplace is a broad and diverse topic. I have only scratched the surface of challenges and solutions in this article. I have much to learn and execute, as do we all. Hence, I am proud to be speaking this week at the 15th Annual Diversity and Leadership Conference sponsored by the National Diversity Council.
If you’re attending, please join me at the LGBTQIA Roundtable on Wednesday, 4/10 at 12:45 p.m. If you’re not attending the conference, I’d still appreciate you sharing some of your solutions to overcoming workplace challenges for the LGBT+ community in the comments on Conduent’s social channels.