Are LGBTQ People in Your Diversity Plan?

The days leading up to and since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality have been nothing short of amazing. This progress would not have been possible without the work of activists, individual citizens and importantly corporations who publicly declared their support.

The momentum they have contributed to the marriage battle, particularly in the final leg, has been invaluable, and it is comforting to see that these partners are continuing the battle with an eye on workplace protections -- and with good reason.

As has been well documented by my peers, even though LGBTQ individuals can now legally wed nationwide, in 29 states they can still be fired simply by putting a picture of their spouse on their desk because they are openly identifying as LGBTQ. Worse yet, there are no workplace protections for transgender employees in 32 states.

While there seems to be something of a consensus that workplace protections are a new priority for the LGBT community, it is too frequently being framed purely as laws and corporate policies. I want to encourage my peers, in particular the corporate world, to thinking about what happens after those protections are achieved and we are faced with something much more amorphous, and in my mind challenging: inclusion.

Important lessons can be gleaned from the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Legal battles and changes to the law only take us so far. True inclusion comes from individuals and corporations going beyond following laws or creating policies that rest in a document to taking actions that ensure everyone is given the chance to participate and the means to succeed. This is why before we start celebrating what I hope is an inevitable legal victory for LGBTs in the workplace, I want to implore our partners, particularly in corporate America, to think about how you can go beyond policies or laws and include our community in your diversity hiring and development.

In the age of social media corporate shaming we've seen numerous companies make bold commitments to diversity. Unfortunately when it comes to LGBTQ people in workplace these proudly diverse companies are not always the bastions of LGBTQ inclusion that their marketing staff would hope they are in the post Obergefell celebration. Frighteningly, even many companies with strong LGBT policies and benefits often exclude LGBTQ people as part of comprehensive diversity hiring and development strategy.

I've personally had individuals from companies (none of which we work with by the way) state both it's not a priority group because LGBTQ people have had so much progress that they no longer need corporate America's support or worse yet because it's just too difficult to identify LGBTQ talent externally or internally because you can't physically see it.

Obviously these statements are seriously misguided, but beyond that there's enough evidence to show that ignoring LGBTQ people as a diversity segment may actually cost companies in the long-term, particularly as the millennials become the largest segment of the workforce.

By excluding LGBTQ people from broader inclusion initiatives, firms may unintentionally signal that the thought diversity out LGBTQ people bring to the workplace is less valuable than that of other underrepresented minorities. This risks sending the message to those LGBTQ employees that being out is irrelevant to their performance in the workplace -- a dangerous and costly message.

A 2014 HRC study showed that only seven percent of 18-24-year-old LGBTQ people are out in the workplace, causing them to be less satisfied with their jobs and more likely to leave. Organization such as Out Now have done the math and shown that employees who are out at work, are 17% more likely to stay with the company than their closeted peers. For a large company, the cost of replacing those individuals could add up to millions.

Further, ignoring inclusion of a significant diversity segment (seven percent of millennials are said to identify as LGBTQ people according to PPRI) will not go unnoticed by this generation. According to Hart Research Associates, 65 percent of millennials support comprehensive inclusion policies for LGBTQ coworkers. These beliefs will have a material impact on how these millennial employees, LGBTQ and otherwise, make decisions about where to work. I've personally had many straight peers wonder why firms are not including LGBTQ statistics along with those of other diversity groups.

So to our corporate partners who have been such valuable partners in the legal arena, I hope that you stay by our side and ask you to think about the potential of going beyond the obvious workplace protections and remember our community when you use that word "diversity." With the millennials on the rise, I promise it's a move that will pay off.