Once again, we’re rolling backwards.
This year already marks another record-breaking one in the US for anti-trans legislation. Pretty much every state is seeing attacks on gender-affirming healthcare, books and literature, athletics, birth certificates, education, and performances such as drag story hours.
Less talked about is what this is doing to the safety of our LGBTQ+ colleagues at work. An Indeed survey released last week found:
- Such legislation causes LGBTQ+ talent to think twice about applying for jobs. Three-quarters of survey respondents said they would hesitate to apply for a position in a state with anti-LGBTQ legislation.
- The majority of LGBTQ+ workers say they have experienced workplace discrimination, with more than half saying they were denied a promotion and about half saying they earn less than their heterosexual colleagues.
- One quarter are not out at work and make an effort to hide their identity due to fears of harassment, discrimination, and hurdles to career advancement.
- Transgender workers face fear and discrimination at higher rates than other LGBTQ+ workers. More than a third say they are not out at work; notably, trans Gen Z workers were 88% more likely than their elder Gen X counterparts to say this.
This climate of fear and intimidation comes on the heels of hard-earned fights for employers to do better by LGTBQ+ communities. That’s all at risk as literally hundreds of bills seek to obliterate the existence of our colleagues.
I asked a handful of LGBTQ+ and workplace experts what we can do:
- Andrew McCaskill, career expert on LinkedIn’s communications team, author of “The Black Guy in Marketing” newsletter
- LaFawn Davis, senior vice president of ESG at Indeed and active member of iPride, Indeed’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group
- Sesha Yalamanchili, owner of On the Mark Consulting, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm
Here are their insights.
The impact of legislation on the workforce
The threats to LGBTQ+ workers affects a large portion of the talent pool, says Indeed’s Davis. “Employers are missing out on if they do not support the community and offer LGBTQ+-specific benefits,” such as fertility benefits and support for gender-affirming care.
In many cases, these benefits can be a counter to the continued legislative and institutional attacks. “Work continues to be a major source of stress for LGBTQ+ professionals, especially with rising anti-LGBTQ+ legislation which has a direct impact on access to economic opportunity,” says McCaskill.
Noting Gen Z’s expectations for companies to stand up for causes, he says employers need to take a firmer public stance against these bills. “Employers must authentically show up to support the LGBTQ+ community inside and outside the workplace,” he says. “If companies don’t act decisively, LGBTQ+ professionals will go—leaving huge talent gaps and failing at inclusion commitments.”
Three types of company action
Pride Month is sandwiched in between Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May and Disability Pride Month in July—an annual reminder from the calendar itself that it’s essential for employers to acknowledge the particular intersectionality of LGBTQ+ workers and commit year-round.
“Queer people are queer all year long, not just 30 days in June, and they want to feel safe and included the other 11 months of the year, too,” says McCaskill. “When personal safety is threatened, when you have to worry about finding lifesaving healthcare, when you worry about your kids being censored and bullied at school, that’s going to affect how you show up at work. …Employees have more choice and more voice than ever before, and Pride flags in June won’t be enough for many of them.”
He breaks down employer action into three areas: external support, policies and training, and internal action.
- External support means signaling public support for LGBTQ+ friendly policies. It might mean signing letters like this one from the Human Rights Campaign, or making sure you have values statements in places where you field candidate queries or applications, such as your jobs page and company LinkedIn profile.
- Company policies and training: “LGBTQ+ people want their employers to have clear, enforceable policies in place to ensure workplaces are free of discrimination and microagressions, while also offering education and bias training for managers and individual contributors,” says McCaskill. What does that look like? From one McKinsey report, some of those policies can include “supporting leave for transitioning colleagues; allowing employees to use the bathroom facilities they find most comfortable, including all-gender options; and ensuring that HR systems are inclusive of all employees’ genders and pronouns, including allowing changes to documents and records” for transitioning workers.
- Internal action means ensuring there are spaces, forums, and resources like employee resource groups or identity-based Slack channels for employees to feel safe and heard—and less alone.
Also remember that LGBTQ+ people are not a monolith, says Yalamanchili. “Each member of the LGBTQ+ community has multiple identities that make up who they are as a whole person,” she says. “Listening to what groups (or collective voices) have to share about common experiences is helpful to understand and become better allies, but it is also important to know that every person is an individual, and it’s important to take time to invest in understanding their experiences.” How? By cultivating a culture of psychological safety that allows employees to feel comfortable sharing who they are (or simply put: getting to know them and listening).
Being an inclusive employer
“Many non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals do find that being more transparent during the interview process can help to ensure the potential employer is also a good match,” Davis notes, but some may not feel comfortable with that transparency. It’s on the employer to proactively communicate their support for LGBTQ+ employees as part of their messaging to potential candidates.
That also means being prepared with substantive answers to questions that may come up during the hiring process (if you don’t have those answers, well, that’s a sign that something needs to change).
“My advice to younger folks is use all the tools you have to find a welcoming culture before you accept the offer—asking your network, research their community engagement history, see if they’ve made and honored public commitments to LGBTQ inclusion on their website and LinkedIn company pages,” says McCaskill. Some questions employers should be proactively addressing in their recruitment materials and ready to answer in interviews:
- Do you have an LGBTQ+ employee resource group?
- What LGBTQ+ friendly benefits do you offer?
- Do you give tools/resources to managers around anti-bias training?
Other places candidates look to assess an employer:
- Rankings: Are they a part of the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, which ranks LGBTQ+ inclusivity?
- Benefits: Do they explicitly mention trans-inclusive healthcare coverage and domestic-partner benefits?
- Networks: What do friends and acquaintances say about the workplace culture?
How to be an ally
Too often, our response when a community is facing harm is to turn to the members of that community for ideas on how to undo it. Check out this excellent articulation of why that’s problematic from Indigenous producer and director Taika Waititi, who spoke at a Hollywood Reporter luncheon last week. It’s going viral on LinkedIn for its plainspeak: "This is the shit you've got us doing. Making us come and talk about the problem and tell you how to fix it. You fucking broke it—you fix it."
Indeed, experts say ultimately solving the problem is on those of us who are not members of the LGBTQ+ community. “You should always be researching and learning. Marginalized communities are not required to educate you as an ally or to expend emotional labor for free,” says Davis. “The LGBTQ+ community already is holding heavy burdens of their own feelings and trying to protect themselves. The onus is on you to educate yourself.”
That education is lifelong, says Yalamanchili. She advises employers to form long-term partnerships with credible LGBTQ+ organizations so their responses can be up-to-date and reflect community needs. “Go beyond just learning the definitions. Many of these resources can tell you about common experiences of microaggressions and discrimination that specific members of these communities are experiencing.”
And when you see a microaggression? Speak up. It’s easy to call yourself an ally. What’s important here is to take action to truly be one.