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Striving for Authenticity: LGBT+ views on enduring discrimination and expanding inclusion

A new report by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, and Workplace Pride provides new information on workplace discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community. It also provides tangible actions that employers can take to address the troubling findings.

The report is the result of a two-part study: (1) a survey of more than 6,000 United States-based professionals, and (2) a facilitated digital conversation – called an “Innovation Jam” – that included more than 2,000 business leaders, subject matter experts, and thought leaders from around the globe.

While the initial survey results did not allow us to assess the experiences from the multitude of gender identities across the spectrum, we did want to tell a comprehensive story about the lived experience of LGBT+ people. To capture valuable insights from individuals across this diverse community, the IBV teamed up with Out & Equal and Workplace Pride to host a Global LGBT+ Innovation Jam. Jam participants claimed identities across the spectrum, with 43% identifying as gay or lesbian, 33% as non-LGBT+, 9% as bisexual, and 8% as queer. Transgender and non-binary people made up 15% of Jam participants.

This report summarizes the findings of the survey and the Jam, both of which offer deep insights from the LGBT+ community about their personal experiences, the obstacles they face at work and in society—and how organizations can redress them. However, in the interest of clarity, we will use different acronyms to refer to the study population (LGB) and the Jam participants and broader community (LGBT+).

Key Research Findings:

  • Despite important legal progress and meaningful efforts by employers to drive inclusion, discrimination against the LGBTQ community remains a reality.
  • Where race, gender, and sexual orientation intersect, the discrimination becomes more pronounced.
  • Nonbinary and gender-expansive identities are common in workplaces.
  • COVID-19 placed an outsized burden on caregivers from the LGBTQ community.

Key Actions for Employers:

1. Fill the LGBT+ leadership pipeline. Corporate sponsorship and mentorship programs can help elevate the voices of out members of the community and help address the LGBT+ leadership gap.

  • Connect with young LGBT+ talent at colleges and universities or through early career programs.
  • Nurture global Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), as they are vital platforms for talent development, internal education, and leadership growth.
  • With the foundation of clear non-discrimination policies, develop an optional self-identification program for the LGBT+ workforce to better understand their needs, track professional development, and benchmark success.

2. Set clear expectations for employees. Communicate the need for respect and the business value of belonging in the workplace.

3. Institute non-discrimination policies and practices. From gender neutral restrooms and dress codes to LGBT+-friendly family leave policies, corporate offerings can help create a more equal workplace.

  • Conduct regular “equity” reviews of employer-provided benefits, including transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage, family benefits, retirement, travel and relocation, and more.
  • Engage the ERG to gauge “real life” impact of the benefits.

4. Use brand eminence as a tool for positive change. Leverage the power of the corporate brand to support LGBT+ rights around the world. Be outspoken—your current and future employees will thank you for it.

  • Ensure government and regulatory Affairs teams focus on legislation impacting minority groups.
  • Work with ERGs around the world to stay on top of the latest legislation, whether it be pro or anti-LGBT+ rights. They provide a unique and powerful bridge between the company and trusted advocates, see Leveraging Your Voice: A Guide for Employee Resource Groups and Public Policy Engagement.
  • Partner with trade associations and NGO, issue position statements, and directly lobby to further LGBT+ rights around the world.
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Out & Equal is the global convener, thought leader and catalyst actively working to achieve workplaces of equality and belonging - supporting LGBTQ+ employees and leaders who thrive in their careers and lives and achieve greater impact on the world.