Elements of LGBTQ-Inclusive Environments in Global Companies
[December 26, 2018] BY Wilmer Balmocena
The benefits of LGBTQ inclusion for employers are clear and cannot be ignored by companies who want to optimize its employee talents. Though the concept of inclusion is not new, the practice of creating an inclusive environment still remains a novelty in many countries throughout the world. To foster an inclusive environment, there are many elements employers must keep in mind to truly be successful. These policies, procedures or practices must be clear, but equally as important, they must be consistent.
It is one thing for a company to claim they are inclusive to diversity, but actions must also reflect that. US-based retailer Urban Outfitters provides an example of inconsistent messaging when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion. The retailer conveys a liberal and diverse culture while targeting young adults (known to be pro-LGBTQ) with their product offering, but the company was caught in controversy as its president and founder, Richard Hayne, donated thousands of US dollars to a known anti-gay presidential candidate.
Implying the Urban Outfitters lifestyle is one thing, but doing something opposite is a mistake company must avoid as it not only gives the company bad press, it also influences the internal culture of the company.
To foster a truly inclusive environment for LGBTQ employees, there are four key elements a company must implement. This article will explore these practices and show what global companies are doing to nurture an inclusive environment for its LGBTQ employees.
Increase Awareness of LGBTQ issues
Johnson & Johnson
Global healthcare provider and LGBTQ inclusion pioneer, Johnson & Johnson, is a perfect example of the first element in creating an inclusive environment – increase awareness of LGBTQ issues. The company believes communicating the importance of inclusion is critical and has executed efforts to provide awareness of diversity and inclusion in their offices around the world. J&J recruited Global Dynamics Inc. to help with the initiative to bring these training sessions to their entire Latin American workforce where a high rate of LGBTQ people experience homophobia and transphobia incidents (violence in many cases) despite progressive LGBT protection laws in place in certain countries.
J&J held a series of Town Hall meetings led by office leaders to introduce diversity and inclusion through a series of 20-minute mini-workshops on various topics such as “Hidden Biases”. GDI prepared the presentations including activities and full scripts that J&J office leaders would learn, customizing the presentation to include Latin American references and photos to identify hidden biases. Over a period of 10 months, more than 20 town hall meetings were held in more than 10 countries.
J&J’s commitment to spreading awareness of diversity and inclusion to its global workforce paid off. Not only did the company increase awareness of issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion, but many employees reported that they were very proud that their company would take the time and effort to discuss important and sensitive issues. J&J also reported that its employee morale was improved after the town hall meetings and believes the meetings will lead to greater retention for quality employees.
“Diversity & Inclusion at Johnson & Johnson is not just a commitment – it is the reality of how we live and work. The best innovations can only come if our people reflect the world’s full diversity of individuals, opinions and approaches.”
-Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson
Training is key
To increase awareness of the issues LGBTQ members face, internal training must occur. The format and size of these meetings can vary and should cater to what’s most effective for the group, but topics should be clear and consistent.
When deciding what format these sessions, consider how knowledgeable the workforce is to LGBTQ issues (location may have a part in this). If the concept of LGBTQ inclusion is new to the audience, lecture or workshop sessions where an overview of basic topics can be presented are most effective, similar to J&J’s case study. If your company is based in a liberal city that’s more exposed to the LGBTQ community, training sessions where discussions are more encouraged may be most beneficial to get the point of the topics across.
Regardless of the format, key messages of training sessions should include an overview of important topics related to the LGBTQ community where assumptions are broken down and questioned, code of conduct in your LGBTQ inclusive workplace is made clear, and why fostering an LGBTQ inclusive workplace is important for employees and the company.
Diversity training is designed to increase awareness of issues faced by people from various groups, usually based on characteristics or demographics such as gender, race, and LGBT identity. A successful training encourages attendees to think about the topics and assess their actions or thoughts, lessening ignorance and influencing understanding of topics covered.
Workplace culture is usually led by the company’s leadership. The phrase “lead by example” holds especially true in LGBTQ inclusive environments as top-level leadership should be trained on what LGBTQ inclusion means and how to implement it with their team. Important topics leadership should be trained on include (but are not limited to):
- An overview of important definitions related to the LGBTQ community
- Discussion on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression
- Review of non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies
- Review of internal and external data to show the impacts of an inclusive or less than an inclusive work environment
Leadership training provides company leaders an understanding of the root cause of many of the barriers LGBTQ employees face that can help them lead and manage the employees. Along with general issues that affect the employees, training on how to address homophobia and transphobia should also be conducted to equip leaders with appropriate actions if ever they need them. These training can also provide insight into the benefits of an inclusive work environment, motivating leadership to nurture that type of workplace.
Create or Enforce Policies
International Business Machines (IBM)
When looking at the second key element LGBTQ inclusive companies must implement, a computer manufacturing company, IBM, has been leading the way on creating policies that enforce equality among its employees for decades. IBM’s commitment to equality goes back to 1935 when IBM founder, Thomas J. Watson, Sr. famously declared, “Men and women will do the same kind of work for equal pay. They will have the same treatment, the same responsibilities and the same opportunities for advancement.” IBM’s equal pay and equal opportunity policy was established 29 years before the US’ Civil Rights Act became law.
As a leading advocate for the LGBTQ community, IBM has created numerous policies and programs to include its LGBTQ employees. Below are just some examples:
- IBM was one of the first companies to include sexual orientation as part of their equal opportunity policy and they extended their domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees in the US over 20 years ago.
- IBM Canada recently extended its employee health benefit plan to include coverage for sex reassignment surgery (this benefit has been available to its US employees for over 10 years) and plans to introduce the same benefit to other countries where local laws, medical practices, and facilities support the treatment.
- In addition to existing countries, IBM has recently added medical and leave benefits for same-gender partners of employees in Greece, Chile, the Philippines, Italy, and Japan. The company plans to announce similar programs for employees in other countries in early 2019.
- IBM’s new global program, Out Role Models, features LGBTQ employees as role models in growth countries including Brazil, Greece, Israel, Mexico, China, India, and Japan.
The efforts IBM has taken to create policies that include its LGBTQ employees are well recognized. Not only do these create an environment where its employees feel supported, but the company has also been awarded as one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Corporate Tax Index for many years in a row. These types of recognition impact the company’s talent recruitment efforts as LGBTQ members look for these types of environments.
Business Insider provides a reference for this with a story of a college student in England in 2011. Charles Donnell was looking for an internship and applied to IBM after his research found the company to be gay-friendly. He joined IBM UK as an intern, finished his university studies and, at age 24, is currently a Program Manager for one of IBM’s Global Leadership Development Programs, having already worked for IBM on global programs in three continents.
“It is the policy of this organization to hire people who have the personality, talent and background necessary to fill a given job, regardless of race, color or creed.”
– Thomas J. Watson, Jr., CEO of IBM
Make it Clear
A company’s policies should be made clear to everyone in the company and by many forms (written in employee documents, training sessions). Detailing one’s policies in the employee handbook should be done and referred to by anyone in the company. Policies on anti-discrimination, bullying, equal opportunity, equal benefits and others that relate to diversity and inclusion should be considered by any company creating an inclusive workplace.
Equally as important is outlining disciplinary actions of any violations of policies that protect diversity and inclusion. A zero-tolerance rule on any discrimination should be enforced and actions should be taken. Depending on your company policy and procedures, any forms of discrimination and harassment should lead to an incident investigation that can result to the offender receiving a formal write-up warning or, depending on the severity of the incident, the offender’s termination.
Creating or enforcing policies and programs that benefit and protect LGBTQ employees creates an environment that is safe. These policies should promote equality and tolerance, conveying that it is safe and welcomed to be 100% authentic at work. Safe environments create a company culture that is open, knocking down barriers of “covering” and the fear of being “outed” at work so the employee can be present and engaged fully.
Recently the Recovery Village Ridgefield and DrugRehab.com pointed out with statistics that members of the LGBTQ community are more at risk to have substance abuse issues. Many of the emotional issues that lead people to activating a drug and/or alcohol addiction are prevalent in the LGBTQ community. Companies are realizing today that safe environments are more accountable for their healthier work life along with LGBTQ individuals need LGBTQ-specific treatment.
Create an LGBTQ Employee Resource Group (ERG)
Once awareness of LGBTQ issues are increased and policies are in place to establish a safe environment for LGBTQ employees, creating Employee Resource Groups (ERG) for LGBTQ employees should be created to foster an inclusive environment.
Global telecommunication company, AT&T, has offered its LGBTQ talent with resource groups for decades. Its resource group, LEAGUE at AT&T, is the US’ oldest LGBTQ ERG established by a Fortune 500 company since 1987. LEAGUE is comprised of individual chapters, located all over the world, but consists of the same cause – to promote diversity, networking, professional development and community involvement within AT&T.
LEAGUE has had a long history of leading the way for inclusion of the LGBTQ community with its efforts which include motivating AT&T to be one of the first US corporations to adopt a domestic partner benefits program in 1998 and offer transgender-inclusive health care benefits in 2006. The group led AT&T to sign onto a “friends of the court” brief at the US Supreme Court to support the business case for marriage equality at a federal level in 2015.
The company’s Senior Vice President, Cynthia Marshall, says having “a true culture of inclusion where every voice matters” is one of the reasons the company has been successful in its initiatives of diversity and inclusion. These employees groups provide a forum for people with common interests to connect and support each other.
“Diversity and inclusion drive innovation at our company. It’s important to foster a culture where all viewpoints are considered.”
– Corey Anthony, Chief Diversity Officer of AT&T
The successful case of AT&T’s LGBTQ ERG having an influence on company policy and programs is just one benefit of implementing internal resource groups when fostering an inclusive workplace. ERGs and employee networks (ENs) provides support, advocacy, education, mentoring and more to specialty groups within one’s company. These groups help people feel comfortable and heard by allowing them to connect with others of similar interests; providing a sense of belonging.
ERGs can operate at different capacities. AT&T’s LEAGUE is an example of one that’s well established, but for smaller companies and startups, these ERGs may be more on the scale of networking activities, lunch meetings or small meetups. The leadership of companies should be encouraged to join these groups if they are LGBTQ members themselves, allowing LGBTQ members more sources of access and exposure to higher level company members. In any case, ensuring that LGBTQ employees have opportunities to meet other LGBTQ members and potential mentors supports the development of an organization’s talent base.
ERGs and ENs are also great ways for non- LGBTQ employees with interests to connect with colleagues of the LGBTQ community. In true inclusion form, anyone of the company should be allowed to join these groups. Non-members can expand their knowledge and have the opportunity to learn more about people who are different than they are; LGBTQ employees, as mentors and mentees, can help non-LGBT employees learn about LGBTQ issues.
Show Support to the LGBTQ Community
The fourth key element in creating an environment of inclusion not only has an impact on the company’s internal culture, but it can also have an impact on a global level – showing support to the LGBTQ community. The global clothing retailer, Gap Inc., have demonstrated support to the LGBTQ community for years and in many ways. From creating clothing campaigns in support of equality to partnering up with GLAAD on the #GotYourBack campaign where thirteen Gap employees share their coming out stories on powerful videos that raised awareness to the cause. Gay has been very public and outspoken with its support for the LGBTQ Community.
One of the company’s most impactful effort, on a global scale, was its partnership with the United Nations Foundation to raise awareness and funds for UN Free & Equal, a program that promotes equal rights and fair treatment for LGBTQ people globally. The 2017 partnership marked Gap’s annual Pride Month campaign and included two main components:
- As part of Gap Inc.’s #WearYourPride campaign, 30% of net sales from Gap’s Pride t-shirts were donated to UN Free & Equal. T-shirts were available for consumers in the US, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Taiwan, and the UK.
- All Gap Inc. brands offered a special Pride-themed eGift Cards and for every gift card sold during the month of June, $2 was donated to the UN Free & Equal program.
Gap Inc.’s on-going support of the LGBTQ community through this program not only raised awareness of Pride Month to its brands’ customers worldwide, but it also highlighted and donated to an important program that has the opportunity to impact LGBTQ people on a global scale.
On an internal scale, Gap’s efforts don’t go unnoticed. Gap employee, Tyler Ray, describes Gap’s culture during this time in a published employee testimonial, “Gap’s culture is built on the foundation of always doing what’s right. To me, we live and breathe that in its fullest during Pride month. Coming together during that time is natural for us because it’s embedded in our culture here to support and celebrate what makes each person unique.”
“Together, our brands celebrate equality for all in our workplaces and communities globally. Not only does this foster inclusivity, creativity, and contribute to a more just world, it also helps us be more competitive in the marketplace and better serve our customers.”
-Art Peck, President & CEO of Gap, Inc.
Walking the Walk
Showing support to the LGBTQ community demonstrates inclusion on a macro-level. Through community outreach and charitable donations, companies can publicly demonstrate their value to potential customers, clients, and employees while supporting important activities in the community. This effort will permeate throughout the company, showing LGBTQ members its support to their community and demonstrating to non-members that company’s stance on inclusion.
This creates an environment where the company’s values are clear and consistent and foster a workplace of employees who share those same values. A workplace that truly nurtures inclusion, a place proud to be a part of.
For companies to create a truly inclusive workplace environment for LGBTQ members, elements (both internally and externally) must be carried out.
- Increasing awareness of LGBTQ issues breaks down barriers of ignorance and increases understanding of the LGBTQ community and its members.
- Creating and enforcing policies create a safe environment where LGBTQ members feel validated by your company and not alienated from policies and programs heterosexual have access to.
- Creating employee resource groups and networks builds on a sense of community within your company, allowing all members to connect and feel supported by other like-minded employees.
- Showing support to the LGBTQ community allows your company to demonstrate its values on an internal and external level while contributing to a positive impact on the community members of your team identify with.
As shown by the case studies in this article, “walking the walk” may not be an easy undertaking, but doing so is needed to truly be inclusive. All initiatives need to be clear and consistent to avoid setting the wrong example or sending the wrong message to your employees worldwide. The elements outlined are the basis of what companies need to look at when trying to foster an inclusive environment, but they can just be the beginning.
As so many of the top successful global companies can affirm, when your company’s talent is fully engaged and included, the possibility of ideas and innovation are endless.
Writer of this post
Wilmer BalmocenaWilmer has been a resident in the San Francisco Bay Area for over fifteen years and has an extensive background in Business Operations and Office Management that gives him a fresh perspective on various topics. As the Operations Manager at btrax, an experience design agency in San Francisco, he is passionate about understanding what motivates businesses and individuals to succeed and excel.
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