It’s Pride Month, and anyone consuming media in any form has seen a lot of great content go out into the world talking about 2SLGBTQQIA+ issues.

For those who wonder just how much of an impact is made by having a time and space available to talk about these issues, ask yourself if you have had more than the usual number of personal and professional conversations relating to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging over the last couple of weeks. I know I have, and what could be a better illustration of the power of having a month dedicated to fostering real discussions about the best ways to move the zeitgeist forward?

Pride is about acknowledging where we have come from, recognizing where we are now, and committing ourselves as individuals, as communities, and as a society towards a better world where everyone can be who they are, love who they love, and live their lives with the same dignity, respect, and happiness as everyone else.

Now this blog is written with a readership of senior business executives in mind, and I do my best to find topics, ideas, and information relevant to their working lives. As such, I want my contribution to Pride 2023 to be less about celebrating how far we have come, and more about the work still to be done, and how the leaders of organizations of all shapes and sizes can contribute and a culture of equity and acceptance.

Let’s start off with some context.

Some Important Numbers from Recent Surveys…

A recent survey of more than 2000 LGBTQ+ professionals reported 24% are not open about their identity in the workplace, and 54% are closeted to their clients and customers even if they are out at work.

47% responded felt their future career prospects and job search efforts may be hindered by their identity, whether they are open about it now or not. In another survey, a whopping 75% reported experiencing at least one negative interaction related to their LGBTQ_ identity at work in the past year, with 41% experiencing more than ten types of such interactions. 25% of respondents say they have left a job at some point because they did not feel accepted at work.

While the US Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that a person can’t be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ruling does not apply to companies with 15 or fewer employees, nor does it address firings based on religious grounds. Meanwhile, almost 240 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in the United States in 2022 alone.

Another study of more than a thousand LGBTQ+ professionals added that 59% of them work for companies that have not many any statements about the recent discriminatory legislation, 50% admit recent anti-LGBTQ+ negatively impacts their mental health, and 36% would consider leaving an employer that does not make a firm stand in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

We talk a lot about talent attraction, talent development, talent retention, and other workforce and leadership trends on this blog. How’s this for being an employer of choice in a tough labor market? 49% of LBTQ+ professionals will not work for a company whose benefits are not LGBTQ+ friendly. In the quest to differentiate your organization from your competitors, you can access a deep and diverse talent pool that half your rivals cannot by recognizing the benefits you offer employees in traditional heteronormative nuclear families should also be available to other families.

For small- and medium-sized enterprises who may think this all sounds like a major departure and a lot to think about, I would point out that most of the largest companies in the world are already doing all of this, and despite some recent high-profile boycotts and protests, none of them have suffered negative repercussions that exceed the benefits the receive from telling their employees and their customers that they support their people. A recent edition of the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index reported the average score for Fortune 500 companies that participated is 90%, with all having nondiscrimination policies in place regarding sexual orientation, and 98% also protecting gender identity. Moreover, 91% have made public commitments to the LGBTQ community and 88% have trans-inclusive benefits.

Demographics and Societal Change Impacting Talent and Workforce Issues

Who is in the LGBTQ+ workforce, exactly? Another recent study of 4,000 employees —half of whom identify as LGBTQ+, and half who do not—gave some interesting results. The LGBTQ+ workforce is far more racially diverse and more likely to include women and transgender employees. Among all respondents, 54% of LGBTQ+ employees are women, and that number is changing where women make up 71% of the LGBTQ population aged 25 to 34 and 78% of those aged 18 to 24. Of LGBTQ+ employees under age 35, 28% are people of color who identify as women, versus just 2% of those aged 55 or older.

Today’s younger LGBTQ+ workforce is more racially diverse than older LGBTQ+ cohorts, too. A majority —53%—  of those aged 18 to 24 are nonwhite, versus just 7% of those aged 55 or older. Similarly, 34% of the Gen-Z LGBTQ workforce is Hispanic, while only 5% of those 55 or older are Hispanic.

It is important to remember when reading numbers like these that there are not ‘more’ LGBTQ+ people in the younger generations than in the older generations. Instead, more people are comfortable enough and feel safe enough to be who they are and let the world know how they see and identify themselves. We can think of this as an encouraging indicator of progress, provided we remember the percentage of LGBTQ+ employees who still prefer to remain closeted at work out of fear of persecution.

We should also remember that Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging for 2SLGBTQQIA+ people is an issue of growing importance for the rest of the workforce too, especially among young employees.

Straight employees under 35 —the Gen-Z and Millennial generations— are more than half again as likely to know LGBTQ+ colleagues who are out, are three times as likely to value their out colleagues, and almost four times as likely to join ally programs and employee resource groups at work where those exist as older non-LGBTQ employees. Straight Gen-Z and millennial workers are also significantly more likely to recognize and condemn discriminatory comments and actions against their LGBTQ colleagues.

Companies that are not actively working on DEIB issues are risking their future as young employees make decisions about who they want to work for and with throughout their careers. Inclusion is not just a nice-to-have. In the New Normal of Work, Top Talent expects to be treated as a whole individual with both a personal and professional life that is valued and understood and respected. Forcing conformity is not just falling out of fashion: It has become a mission-critical liability for any organization trying to gather and hold onto the people it needs to succeed.

DEIB in About Both Day-to-Day Actions, and Public Gestures of Support

What should organizations looking to be an employer of choice for 2SLGBTQQIA+ people do?

Let me start off by saying I am really not the person to be answering that question with specifics. My advice to everyone looking to be more inclusive is to engage with people who have been traditionally marginalized. They want to be recognized and given a chance to say what they have to say, and they also want to be heard by someone with the power to bring about positive change. What are the day-to-day things they want to see and here? What are the resources they need to make an impact and support the cultural transformation in the workplace that is already happening in society at large? Which public gestures of support from the company are meaningful and impactful, and which are seen as insincere posturing and empty genstures?

There is no one right answer, but doing nothing or trying to impose a top-down cultural change by decree are definitely the wrong answers.

Leaders should be looking for rising talent in their teams who care about this issue, either from a place of allyship or because they are part of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community themselves. Give them the authority and support they need to keep the dialogue and open space we see during Pride Month going throughout the year. Give the people who want to make advocacy part of their role in the company the freedom to do what they thing is right, to do it on behalf of their colleagues, their team, and their organization. Genuine Inclusivity has to come from engaged and committed people, and they already exist in every organization if you go looking for them with the promise that you want to help them.

The world has changed a lot over the years, and a lot of virtual column inches have been written about how far we have come. I will put it to you, there is as much still ahead of us and more, and the young people in the workforce today are going to be a driving force of that progress throughout their lives. It is for senior leadership to acknowledge and embrace that change, enable it where they can, support the rising leaders as they emerge, and keep that culture of open dialogue going. Their organizations will be stronger for it, and it is also the right thing to do.

Geoff Micks
Head of Content & Research
Executive Platforms

Geoff joined the industry events business as a conference producer in 2010 after four years working in print media. He has researched, planned, organized, run, and contributed to more than a hundred events across North America and Europe for senior leaders, with special emphasis on the energy, mining, manufacturing, maintenance, supply chain, human resources, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, finance, and sustainability sectors. As part of his role as Head of Content & Research, Geoff hosts Executive Platforms’ bluEPrint Podcast series as well as a weekly blog focusing on issues relevant to Executive Platforms’ network of business leaders.

Geoff is the author of five works of historical fiction: Inca, Zulu, Beginning, Middle, and End. The New York Times and National Public Radio have interviewed him about his writing, and he wrote and narrated an animated short for Vice Media that appeared on HBO. He has a BA Honours with High Distinction from the University of Toronto specializing in Journalism with a Double Minor in History and Classical Studies, as well as Diploma in Journalism from Centennial College.