America’s largest companies are more committed than ever to supporting their LGBTQ employees with specific nondiscriminatory polices, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the nation’s premier advocates for LGBTQ rights. Yet, at the same time, HRC found that both these large companies, and businesses in general, have a long way to go before ensuring that all their employees feel comfortable at work.
“I think things have certainly evolved,” said Joseph Manicki, an instructor in Georgetown University’s Master's in Human Resources Management program. “Five or 10 years ago, the focus was on making the playing field a little more level. The best companies are now focused on phase two: How do you create an inclusive culture?”
And that—the “inclusion” part of “diversity and inclusion”—can be more complicated than simply hiring LGBTQ employees and pledging not to discriminate.
A Mixed Review
In 2018, 91 percent of the companies HRC surveyed included sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, up from 61 percent in 2002. 83 percent included gender identity, compared with just 3 percent in 2002.
But while there has been progress in recruitment and policymaking, many companies need to do more to ensure that all their employees feel welcomed on the job. In “A Workplace Divided,” an assessment of the office climate for LGBTQ employees, HRC said that one in five LGBTQ employees have been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress more feminine or masculine, and—perhaps not coincidentally—nearly half (46 percent) of LGBTQ employees remain closeted at work.
Progress on LGBTQ rights has also been mixed nationally when it comes to federal court decisions and state and federal policies. Two federal appeals courts have reached different conclusions on whether sexual orientation is covered in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Under President Obama, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission argued that LGBTQ persons were covered in the legislation, whereas the Trump administration has maintained they are not.
Concern Over National Politics
These cases, and the fractured political climate in general, have some LGBTQ advocates concerned.
“Despite recent progress, many in the community remain worried about potentially going backwards,” said Manicki, who is also vice president, total rewards and diversity & inclusion for Vista Outdoor.
That would not be good for business, which has many reasons to support efforts to create a diverse staff and an inclusive workplace. In a report for Vista Outdoor, Manicki cited several studies showing that workplaces with ethnic, racial, and gender diversity perform better financially than those that are less diverse. While research is lacking on the impact of diversity regarding sexual orientation, the assumption is those organizations that are diverse in this area would also have an edge over ones that are less diverse, the bottom line being that all employees are happier and more productive when they feel accepted for who they are.
Still, with LGBTQ persons representing between 3 and 4.5 percent of the population, even the most responsible companies fall short of replicating those percentages in their workforces, Manicki said. This is especially true of smaller businesses.
“Unless you’re a very large employer, you’re talking about a pretty small group of out LGBTQ employees,” Manicki said.
He said companies can increase diversity by creating mentoring programs and reaching out to local community groups for support.
“I think there’s been a lot of great progress, and a lot of companies out there that are creating credible cultures of inclusion,” Manicki said. “As corporate cultures evolve, more LGBTQ employees will feel comfortable bringing their true selves to work and, hopefully, expanding their presence within organizational leadership over time.”