Eye-Opening Insight from Our Forthcoming LGBTQ+ Leadership Report

FOUR. There are only four openly LGBTQ+ CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies—none of whom are openly transgender or bisexual. Despite the progress made to foster more diverse, inclusive workplaces, companies still lack the numbers—with limited representation among senior executives and in leadership pipelines of LGBTQ+ talent. Like the “glass ceiling” for women, LGBTQ+ leaders may face a “lavender” or “pink” ceiling,” that is, an unofficial limit to their advancement in the workplace. These limits and barriers result from a confluence of overt and subtle bias, structural inequalities, and broader stereotypes that manifest as career blocks.  

Visibility and mentorship are incredibly powerful tools for inclusion, well-being, and career mobility. Leadership and professional development programs like Out & Equal’s Diverse Leaders Fellowship and Next Gen Leadership Initiative, powered by Bank of America and coupled with Korn Ferry’s Leadership U for Humanity, are necessary to not only engage diverse talent, but support their ascension through leadership ranks. From employee resource groups (ERGs) to leadership development programs, creating workplaces where LGBTQ+ talent is valued, nurtured, and primed for leadership roles takes a year-round commitment to employees, the communities they serve, and core company values. 

To gain concrete insights into the challenges that LGBTQ+ leaders face in their career mobility as well as opportunities for change, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates and Korn Ferry surveyed over 130 out-at-work LGBTQ+ and allied leaders about their careers and workplace experiences with openness at work, workplace relationships, and mentorship opportunities. This study—to be released in full in September at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit—demonstrates that despite meaningful progress on LGBTQ+ inclusion initiatives, the full diversity of the community remains under-represented, if not absent, from the highest levels of leadership. The path to fully-representative rosters of out LGBTQ+ executives is paved with sustained and innovative inclusion programs that center intersectional experiences of LGBTQ+ talent.  

Beyond the Monolith: Differences in Experiences of LGBTQ+ Leaders  

  • The LGBTQ+ community is incredibly diverse—with respect to race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, and more—but the most prominent openly LGBTQ+ leaders across the private sector do not reflect this diversity. Every year, Fortune 500 and other major employers tap their most promising talent and leaders for LGBTQ+-specific leadership capacity building at the Out & Equal Executive Forum, among other opportunities. Despite major employers’ sustained commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), most of the LGBTQ+ leaders sent are white (70 percent) and cisgender (94 percent)—validating the need for new programs that take an intersectional approach to LGBTQ+ leadership development.  
  • Too often, DEIB efforts aimed at addressing barriers to LGBTQ+ career advancement treat the community as a monolith and center efforts on addressing sexual orientation-based bias or barriers to advancement. Taking an intersectional lens to the survey data, illuminates a wholly different story:    
    • Over seven in ten of transgender respondents named their gender identity or expression as the primary source of workplace bias they encounter.   
    • Four in ten non-white LGBTQ+ respondents said their race/ethnicity is the primary source of bias they face at work. 

Propelling the Next Generation of Diverse LGBTQ+ Leaders Forward 

In 2021, Out & Equal partnered with Bank of America to create the Diverse Leaders Fellowship, intended to increase the pipeline of out early and mid-career underrepresented LGBTQ+ talent in Fortune 500 companies. By centering marginalized LGBTQ+ leaders, the program ensures “intersectionality” is not just a buzzword but a tangible action plan for the full diversity of our community to be represented in corporate leadership. The Fellowship convenes in person during the 2023 Workplace Summit and virtually throughout the year to engage in career trajectory planning, maximize leadership presence, and support Fellows in identifying their strengths, passions, and career goals.  

Similarly, the Korn Ferry Institute launched Leadership U for Humanity, a leadership development program focused on professionals of color and those from other underrepresented populations. This six-month learning journey supports leaders in developing skills to accelerate their careers through self-guided learning, live virtual classes, and personal coaching. By the close of this year, these programs will have empowered over 200 LGBTQ+ fellows. 

Ready. Set. Elevate! 

Out & Equal’s Diverse Leaders Fellowship program powered by Bank of America is still accepting applications.  Apply today 

We’ll release the full LGBTQ+ Leadership Insights Report at this year’s 2023 Workplace Summit, being held exclusively for Out & Equal Partners, September 11-14, Orlando, Florida.  

Out & Equal Partners Register Now