For as much as corporations talk about diversity, it sometimes seems that the topic itself lacks diversity. There are countless underrepresented groups that don’t always make their way into the spotlight, such as the neurodiverse and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The current White House, in a proclamation for Pride Month, hopes to change that: “The uprising at the Stonewall Inn in June, 1969, sparked a liberation movement — a call to action that continues to inspire us to live up to our Nation’s promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Pride is a time to recall the trials the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community has endured and to rejoice in the triumphs of trailblazing individuals who have bravely fought — and continue to fight — for full equality.” But we as business leaders must also prepare to do more.
LGBTQ Discrimination as American as Apple Pie
President Biden had a very good reason for announcing this proclamation, evident in a recent statement from the ACLU on the growing amount of legislation affecting LGBTQ rights across the United States: “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in America continue to face discrimination in their daily lives. While more states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ people, we continue to see state legislatures advancing bills that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate.”
We like to think of ourselves as a nation of equality and liberty for all, but our history demonstrates otherwise, particularly for groups like LGBTQ that continue to languish in the field of civil rights. In 27 states, there are no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. That’s 54% of the country.
Or consider the Spartacus International Gay Guide which publishes the Gay Travel Index, a ranking of gay-friendly countries. The top countries? The United States isn’t one of them.
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
The United States doesn’t even make the top 20. It comes in at 31 on the list.
“For all of our progress,” the White House wrote, “there are many States in which LGBTQ+ individuals still lack protections for fundamental rights and dignity in hospitals, schools, public accommodations, and other spaces. Our Nation continues to witness a tragic spike in violence against transgender women of color. LGBTQ+ individuals — especially youth who defy sex or gender norms — face bullying and harassment in educational settings and are at a disproportionate risk of self-harm and death by suicide. Some States have chosen to actively target transgender youth through discriminatory bills that defy our Nation’s values of inclusivity and freedom for all.”
LGBTQ Issues in the Workplace
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) works locally, nationally, and globally on issues that affect the LGBTQ community. HRC partners with people across demographics, industries, and governments to provide leadership on how to back up pro-equality statements with real action — and create a society where no one is left behind. And despite decades of progress and positive momentum, LGBTQ people remain highly marginalized, even in discussions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).
In its report on a “Workplace Divided,” HRC found that:
- 46% of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted at work, compared to 50% in HRCF's groundbreaking 2008 Degrees of Equality report
- 1-in-5 LGBTQ workers report having been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress in a more feminine or masculine manner
- 53% of LGBTQ workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once in a while
- 31% of LGBTQ workers say they have felt unhappy or depressed at work
And the top reason LGBTQ workers don't report negative comments they hear about LGBTQ people to a supervisor or human resources? “They don't think anything would be done about it — and they don't want to hurt their relationships with coworkers.”
According to Catalyst, LGBTQ workers face hostility in the office frequently.
One-fifth (20%) of LGBTQ Americans have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when applying for jobs. This becomes more pronounced for LGBTQ people of different races and ethnicities:
- LGBTQ who are people of color – 32%
- LGBTQ people who are White – 13%
Pay can also be affected, with 22% of LGBTQ Americans not having been paid equally or promoted at the same rate as their peers
LGBTQ people are also often subjected to biased jokes, which constitutes harassment.
- 53% have heard lesbian or gay jokes
- 37% have heard bisexual jokes
- 41% have heard transgender jokes
The pandemic only intensified employment related problems for LGBTQ talent. About 40% of the industries in which LGBTQ employees hold jobs were those where workers faced more exposure to infection and economic insecurity.
- 2 million LGBTQ workers are in restaurants and food services
- 1 million work in hospitals
- 30% had reduced work hours
- 12% became unemployed
Discrimination is Terrible Behavior and Terrible Business
The reality for merchants is that discriminatory laws actually kill bottom-line profits. The whites in 1960 Greensboro discovered that sit-in protests hurt their businesses more than integration ever could have. Overall sales at the time fell by 20%. Profits dropped by 50%. Conversely, sales soared at desegregated companies located in cities such as Dallas and Atlanta. Ultimately, within a year of the first demonstrations, businesses across more than 100 Southern towns and cities agreed to integrate.
For a modern perspective, consider a 2014 piece of legislation in Mississippi that allowed opponents of gay marriage to deny service to patrons based on religious objections. The merchants who posted signs welcoming LGBTQ customers enjoyed tremendous spikes in sales. The others enjoyed a tremendous spike in negative social media, attrition, and unwanted attention from satirists.
Beyond that, businesses lose out tremendously when they ignore, shun, or marginalize people. In 2018, the purchasing power of LGBTQ Americans reached $1 trillion. For couples that earned over $100,000 in wages, the majority were same-sex couples, at 46.7%. One year later, their purchasing power blossomed to an estimated $3.7 trillion globally, according to LGBT Capital. Brands that work diligently and earnestly to capture the essence of LGBTQ+ culture will consistently gain the trust and business of LGBTQ consumers. And that involves genuine effort, not just painting rainbows on everything for the month of June.
No company can grow and innovate without diversity of perspective and culture. Developing an inclusive and profitable employment brand can’t be accomplished by straight, white leadership alone, even if they are allies. A business must be the face of its customers—all of them. And only the people who live in those faces, who live those experiences, have the insight to create, market, sell, and support customers similar to them.
Yes, America needs to improve DEIB across the spectrum. Yes, we believe it’s a moral imperative to cultivate and nurture sincere, effective DEIB efforts in employment. But the business case alone should be reason enough for company leaders who may feel uncomfortable with a multifoliate tree of culture growing in their workplaces. Because when we alienate others, we also alienate the consumers they reflect. And when we close the doors of opportunity to different people, we slam shut the lid on coffers that contain untold profits. So if simple humanity isn’t reason enough to sway some organizations from exclusionary behaviors, just follow the money.