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Why an LGBT-friendly Work Environment is Good for Business

Written By Alexandria Suggs, Career Track MBA 1st Year

The social, political and legal landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people has seen historical changes within the last ten years. Same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015, 89% of Fortune 500 companies, as of 2014, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and we are blessed with the Ellen Show every day at 5:00.¹ What more could the LGBT community want?

According to the 2013 Pew survey, the LGBT community also wants workplace protections and an accepting work environment. The survey reported that 57% of LGBT respondents said equal employment rights should be a “top priority,” beating out same-sex marriage.² Flash forward to 2016 and we see that LGBT employees can still be fired for being gay or transgender in 28 states—better hide those newly acquired wedding bands folks.

With how far the United States has come in terms of equality, it’s surprising that the dynamic social environment for the LGBT community has yet to fully carry over to the workplace. For instance, 19 states and Washington D.C. have passed laws preventing LGBT Americans from being discriminated against by employers³ and Boise itself has a non-discrimination ordinance that bans discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Boise joins 11 other cities in Idaho with this type of ordinance, covering 30% of our state’s population.⁴ While progress is being made, there are still some surprising statistics that show the majority (53% to be exact) of LGBT Americans are still in the closet, rather than conversing openly in the breakroom.⁵

So why does this matter for business?

According to The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion, a study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, LGBT individuals and their allies aren’t the only ones that should be asking for policies and protections for sexual and gender identity in the workplace; businesses should as well. The study shows that LGBT programs and diversity efforts directly correlate with LGBT employee engagement, productivity and effectiveness, overall diversity and inclusion in job applicants, lower turnover and higher retention rates, and apparently $8-9 billion that the U.S. economy and various businesses are potentially missing out on.

In this Human Rights Campaign study, when non-LGBT employees were asked about how often conversations about social relationships and dating come up in the workplace, 80% responded that they occur weekly and often daily. However, with this, 70% of non-LGBT workers agree that “it is unprofessional” to talk about sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. When taking these numbers and linking them back to an organization’s overall success, they pose a real problem.

LGBT employees who are out and supported at work, it turns out, are between 20-30% more productive, with 26% having stayed in a job because the environment was accepting. On the other hand, 20% of LGBT workers report looking for a job specifically because the environment wasn’t accepting of LGBT identities, and 9% successfully left a job due to the same reasons.⁴ When looking at these numbers alone, a business without an LGBT-friendly environment are suffering in both employee performance and a higher turnover rate, while diverse and accepting workplace environments are seeing the opposite.

With this in mind, can an accepting workplace environment for LGBT employees drive tangible results within their consumer base as well?

The answer is yes. According to the LGBT 2020 – LGBT Diversity Show Me the Business Case study, the “US economy could save $9 billion annually if organizations were more effective at implementing diversity and inclusion policies for LGBT staff.”¹ This not only results from fewer discrimination lawsuits, but also relates to the market share the LGBT consumers hold. In a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive in 2011, “nearly nine out of ten (87%) LGBT adults said they are likely to consider a brand providing equal workplace benefits. 23% of LGBT adults have switched products or services because a different company was supportive of the LGBT community, even if a brand was costlier or less convenient.”¹ With these numbers, it seems a number of businesses are losing out on the potential gains associated with an LGBT-friendly organization.

So what can businesses do?

Charles Donnell, a Leadership and Management Development Consultant at IMB, gives us some steps to take to foster an LGBT-friendly workplace environment.⁵
1. Create an inclusive atmosphere
Companies can start by creating an LGBT group for employees. Employee resource groups and mentor programs statistically show positive results with 67% of LGBT employees feeling welcomed in these settings.⁴ With this, the company as a whole can illustrate their support by participating in Pride events and LGBT causes throughout the year.

2. Inclusivity stems from leadership
“Clear messages from management on the importance of diversity and acceptance make the company’s stance transparent and create a culture that is clear on its values, on what words and actions it will tolerate and what resources it will make available to employees,” says Donnell.

3. Build diversity into human resource policies
A company can foster an accepting work environment by recruiting with diversity in mind. Reach out to university LGBT groups, enforce structured interviews to remove biases⁶, and have interviewers be held socially accountable in the hiring process to explain why they chose the applicant they did.⁷ And lastly, ensure these inclusive values are shown on the company’s website and social media channels.

Putting these practices into place, among other various steps, can help create an LGBT-friendly work environment. With the evidence showing the positive effects an inclusive and accepting workplace can have, such as fostering more productive, effective and loyal LGBT team members, it’s easy to make the argument that better acceptance leads to better business.

Alexandria Suggs is a marketer and graphic designer in her first year of the Career Track MBA program at Boise State University and is the MBA Intern for the Responsible Business Initiative in the College of Business and Economics. In that role, she is coordinating the upcoming summit on inclusion in business co-sponsored by the College of Business and Economics, Wells Fargo, the City of Boise and the Boise Valley Economic Partnership on November 17, 2106. Contact her directly at