• Emi Kamezaki

Pride Month: LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer+ (LGBTQ+) Pride Month, and like many cultural observances, its significance is layered. There’s a lot to celebrate, from LGBTQ+ individuals and their stories, to the growing progress, awareness, acceptance and allyship around the world. It’s also a reminder to persist in the continuous journey to create diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces for all. This starts with learning and a commitment to speaking up.

A brief history of Pride Month

We would be remiss not to acknowledge that this celebration was built out of immense pain and courage. Pride Month is held in June to acknowledge the Stonewall Uprising. On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club, and “roughly hauled out employees and patrons,” according to History.com. In our country’s recent past, discriminatory laws allowed establishments that served alcohol to “known or suspected” LGBTQ+ individuals to be penalized or shut down. The raid led to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement throughout the area. Many consider the Stonewall Uprising as pivotal in igniting the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Progress on the horizon

Even now, legal protections relating to LGBTQ+ rights are still in flux, and a 2019 Supreme Court case ignited a recent discussion specific to the workplace. In the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the court ruled that Title VII prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Before the ruling, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) represented the position that transgender individuals aren’t protected from discrimination at work, then publicly flipped its stance just two months ago, in April 2021. The DOJ now says it will “vigorously enforce” federal prohibitions on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the fact that these basic human rights continue to be challenged demonstrates how critical it is for organizations to advocate for LGBTQ+ individuals, in the workplace and otherwise.

The role of organizations

McKinsey states that despite outwardly visible signs of progress, “the growing business case for inclusion hasn’t translated into solid gains for the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace itself.” This is harmful to both employees and businesses, and organizations have an opportunity and a responsibility to level the playing field. By actively listening, understanding and valuing your LGBTQ+ employees, you can build an empathetic organization that is welcoming to all. A complex issue like LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace requires a multi-layered approach, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started.

  • Focus on your culture: Adjust recruiting practices, policies and career development processes to bake equity into your organization. The goal is for every person within the organization to support and champion these changes. For example, analyze whether your organization adheres to gender-conforming dress code policies, how your restrooms are labeled and what types of resources are available to employees. You’ll uncover countless opportunities to shift your culture.

  • Build an inclusive workforce: Invest in your employees’ learning to build their cultural competence and ensure they’re equipped to use inclusive language. Specifically, these trainings must cover sexual orientation and gender identity, and create clear expectations around acceptable behavior in the workplace. Go beyond your standard discrimination and bias trainings to foster honest discussions about the topics that matter most to your employees.

  • Communications and employee listening: Build processes for two-way conversations with your employees, such as regular meetings, town halls and surveys. Ensure verbal and written communications are both purposeful and inclusive. (Don’t say something just to say it!) This often requires training, language guidelines and a strong review process. Finally, make sure your company’s values are crystal clear to everyone in the organization by reinforcing them in all messaging.

  • Do your research: Band-Aid solutions address the symptoms, not the disease. Sustainable change requires careful, informed decisions and a data-driven approach. Learn about and assess the organizational systems that impact underrepresented populations such as LGBTQ+ employees so you can optimize them from the inside out.

Whether your organization is new to the philosophy of diversity, equity and inclusion, or you have a robust program in place, engaging with, celebrating and supporting LGBTQ+ employees is essential. Familiarize yourself with the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, stay up to date on current legislation and take action to embed equity in your organization’s culture. Most importantly, listen to your LGBTQ+ employees and act with empathy. While LGBTQ+ Pride is observed in June, it must be celebrated and prioritized year-round.