Today, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates is pleased to announce the Diverse Leadership Initiative, which is made possible by a generous grant from Bank of America. The funding will support our mission to increase the pipeline of out, early- and mid-career, underrepresented LGBTQ talent in Fortune 500 companies, support the development of these leaders, and build inclusive workplace cultures that will recruit and retain high-potential LGBTQ employees.

Bank of America’s commitment to this initiative is grounded in its recognition that there is an urgent need to address the racial inequality that exists in the United States. This inequality is closely connected to a lack of economic opportunity. Where there is racial injustice there is often a lack of economic mobility, and vice versa. The bank looks to Out & Equal as a quality community partner that can help lift barriers to economic mobility for the LGBTQ community, and especially for LGBTQ people of color.

For 25 years, Out & Equal has worked to advance LGBTQ inclusion and help LGBTQ employees thrive within major public and private sector employers in the US and around the world.  In that time, policies and practices aimed at supporting LGBTQ employees have grown exponentially. Employers have also recognized the value of recruiting and investing in the development of LGBTQ employees. Investing in cultures of belonging for LGBTQ and other employee groups and building strong LGBTQ leadership pipelines has proven benefits beyond the individual employee. Research demonstrates that supporting LGBTQ leaders positively impacts the engagement, job satisfaction, and morale of their teams and the strength of the entire organization. 

To be effective, identity-based recruiting and leadership development programs need to go beyond the one identity group identified, e.g. LGBTQ, and incorporate an intersectional framework that considers an individual’s multiple identities and experiences. We know from our experience that the discrimination that LGBTQ community members face is compounded as it intersects with other marginalized identities. For example, LGBTQ people of color and women face compound barriers to career mobility and employment itself.

Efforts to increase the pipeline of diverse leadership in corporate America also cannot ignore Gen Z jobseekers. The focus on these younger generations is strategic. In the US alone, Gen Z makes up over a quarter of the population and will quickly surpass Millennials as the most populous generation. As the most racially, sexually, and gender-diverse generation yet – with 16% identifying as LGBTQ+ and 55% identifying as non-white – Gen Z workers face a unique set of challenges due in large part to the intersectionality they represent. Recent data from the Trevor Project highlights these barriers, illuminating both the increased discrimination that trans and nonbinary youth (13-24) face, and the increased barriers to employment that LGBTQ youth of color face. Campus recruiting programs and other early career recruitment efforts often fail to account for the unique needs and experiences of LGBTQ students, much less employ intersectional frameworks that account for the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. 

Out & Equal has identified gaps in both the resources available to LGBTQ students interested in corporate jobs, and in the resources available to employers seeking to recruit and retain LGBTQ students. The Diverse Leadership Initiative will address these gaps through the development of resources, toolkits, trainings, and mentorship opportunities for employers and Gen Z employees.  The program would also expand Out & Equal’s ability to reach students at MSIs (minority serving institutions).  We hope to diversify and expand the pipeline of students that access corporate summer intern development programs.

The stakes for failing to address this challenge are high:  If corporate America doesn’t manage to authentically connect with these students – who represent one of the largest segments of the future workforce – and show them it can be a welcoming place for all identities, then this talent will self-select into other career paths.

Gen Z jobseekers place a premium on organizational diversity and inclusion efforts, sometimes considering a company’s stance as important as pay. A 2020 study by Intel discovered that 56% of Gen Z and Millennial respondents would hesitate to accept a job at an organization that claimed to be inclusive yet did not have diverse leaders.

We know that while the number of out LGBTQ senior leaders has increased over the years, that group has often not represented the racial/ethnic and gender diversity of the broader LGBTQ population. Beyond recruitment efforts, workplaces must provide professional development opportunities to retain and promote their LGBTQ workforce. LGBTQ leadership development programs often lack intersectional frameworks that account for multiple marginalizations, resulting in missed opportunities to reflect the racial and gender diversity of the broader LGBTQ community.

The Diverse Leaders Fellowship is the first LGBTQ leadership development program focusing specifically on underrepresented leaders at early to mid-career stages. It complements Out & Equal’s existing offerings – like Executive Forum, which invests in senior professionals – by bringing together underrepresented leaders for a one-day professional development symposium, complementary access to the 3-day Workplace Summit, and exclusive programming and networking during the conference and throughout the year.