Waving the Rainbow Flag: Cultivating LGBTQ Diversity in the Workplace

This month, I had the opportunity to spend an entire weekend celebrating the acceptance and achievements of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. As a member of this community, being able to proudly walk along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. in my most flamboyant rainbow gear was a gleeful and memorable experience. While at the events, I took a moment to reflect on how far LGBTQ rights have progressed through the years, reaching milestones related to workplace discrimination and marital rights. 

The parade initially started as a grassroots protest and eventually transformed into a mainstream celebration. Organizations and businesses – both small and large –  partake in the event through marching, sponsoring colorful floats, and handing out endless free items. For example, Capital One Bank was giving out iced coffee while the wine company Barefoot hosted a colorful, interactive photo booth where people could take photos to share on Instagram.

Genuine LGBTQ Outreach

With all of this being said, sometimes I can’t resist wondering whether or not these organizations and businesses are genuine in their LGBTQ outreach. Some members of the LGBTQ community may feel skeptical that these businesses (especially Fortune 500 companies) are just “in it for the money”.  After all, many businesses might argue that because there has been significant progress made for the LGBTQ community, not embracing the pride could be “bad for business.”

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) does a great job of keeping track of LGBTQ-friendliness in workplaces in its annual Corporate Equality Index. Not only does the HRC record companies’ non-discrimination policies, but they also scout whether or not these companies offer LGBTQ-friendly benefits and participate in corporate social responsibility.

Embracing LGBTQ diversity in the workplace means more than just swapping in rainbow colors to your company logo. A company that truly wants to support the LGBTQ community should make proactive adjustments to the way they do business in order to prioritize inclusivity.

Photo taken by Fifth Tribe’s David Nguyen at the 2019 Capital Pride Parade in Washington, D.C.

Inclusive Policies & Protections

Firstly, companies should address a fear that many LGBTQ employees face: coming out at work will hinder the possibility of progressing in their career or will get them fired. As of June 2019, only 20 states offer full workplace protections from discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. To explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity in a company’s non-discrimination policy will be a significant step forward.

But HR support shouldn’t end there. Employee benefits that a company wishes to offer should be LGBTQ-inclusive. For example, LGBTQ individuals should be offered the same health insurance, parental leave, etc. as their cisgendered, and/or heterosexual coworkers. Outlining procedures for how LGBTQ employees can come to HR about harassment and discrimination could also be beneficial to include.

A Culture That Cares

In my opinion, there are several ways by which employees can be more LGBTQ-inclusive, especially as it pertains to gender identity. For instance, it is important to ask all employees (regardless of how they appear) what their preferred names and pronouns are in professional communication. If your company has a dress code, it should be gender neutral: give your employees the freedom to express their identified gender and trust that they’ll still dress professionally. Lastly, restrooms that are gender-neutral will create a comfortable environment that aligns with the policy that employees may enter any restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Beyond the Office

As you continue to build a work culture that is genuinely LGBTQ-inclusive, take advantage of opportunities to reach out to the greater LGBTQ community.  Encourage employees to partake in local LGBTQ networking events, and consider sponsoring events like parades and festivals. And if your office has the space, invite members of the LGBTQ community who work in your arena to give a lecture to your employees. Donating is also a great way to support the LGBTQ community: organizations like The Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and The Trevor Project will directly benefit the LGBTQ community as a whole.

Promoting and protecting a diverse and inclusive workforce brings together a variety of perspectives, skills, and experiences that will ultimately contribute to the advancement of a company’s innovation, business strategy, and success.  However, these goals will only be met when they’re pursued with genuine intentions, as opposed to those that mask efforts to fulfill a diverse quota. Make the effort to lift your employees up to their full potential, and both they and your company will thrive.

Featured Photo by Toni Reed on Unsplash.

Khuram Zaman

Khuram Zaman is the CEO of Fifth Tribe, a leading digital agency serving the Washington DC Metropolitan Area based out of the 1776 Startup Co-working Space. In his professional capacity, he has provided digital marketing services to clients as diverse as the Department of Defense, Kaiser Permanente, Oxfam America, Ernst and Young, and The Hult Prize. His writing has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur.com, and Business2Community. Khuram is the host of the Campfire: Impact and Innovation live podcast on Youtube. In his free-time, Khuram serves as a mentor to startups through the Peace Tech Accelerator, the Halycon Incubator, and is also a Entrepreneur in Residence at Georgetown University