Out & Equal Workplace Advocates is preparing an initiative to increase the pipeline for out LGBTQ executives in Fortune 500 companies, and to build inclusive workplace cultures that will recruit and retain high-potential LGBTQ employees. Bank of America is supporting this groundbreaking work through the development of a leadership pipeline program. Identifying and developing out-at-work leaders – especially women, non-binary individuals, or those who come from other underrepresented populations – to grow into the C Suite is one way to ensure we reach our goals.

By engaging both people and workplace culture, this project hopes to significantly shift the landscape of LGBTQ inclusion.

We will be announcing more details about the program in the near future. Sign up here to be the first to know as the program moves forward:

What’s behind this initiative?

LGBTQ people make up an estimated 4.5% of the adult US population, with generation-specific surveys estimating up to 20% of the millennial US adult population identifying as LGBTQ. In corporate America, LGBTQ inclusion has been a focus of D&I efforts for decades. Yet LGBTQ representative at executive levels is sparse. Less than 0.5% of Fortune 500 CEOs identify as LGBTQ, with the number dropping to 0.3% for directors.

In their research on workplace inclusion, NYU Law Professor Kenji Yoshino and Deloitte Managing Principal Christie Smith found that a staggering 83% of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals cover or downplay their identity at work, fearing consequences such as making coworkers feel uncomfortable, being stereotyped, losing established connections, or outright discrimination. (The study did not capture the specific covering experiences of transgender and non-binary individuals.)

Covering has serious consequences for the workplace. Yoshino and Smith note that employees who cover are less committed to their organizations, less likely to perceive opportunities to advance, less likely to feel a sense of belonging, and more likely to consider leaving the organization than those who don’t cover. All of these point to lower rates of employee retention — something that can pose a serious cost for companies in terms of both necessary training and lost innovation.

Unsurprisingly, many LGBTQ employees also report that some of the major factors that make a company appealing are opportunities for career progression and visible LGBTQ senior leadership, with leaders often sought-out as mentors for LGBTQ employees. These factors suggest companies would do well to offer career development opportunities specifically for their LGBTQ employees. This would promote more openly LGBTQ senior leaders who, in turn, would further encourage a culture of openness.