Build Support Systems for LGBT Employees

In March 2014, hundreds of LGBT rights protestors demonstrated on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Now more than ever, employees are embracing their sexual identities, both in and out of the workplace.

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 7 percent of millennials identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. In a separate question, 1 percent of respondents identified as transgender.

This is nearly double the number of adults who identify as LGBT in the general population, according to surveys conducted by Gallup in 2012 and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013, which found that 3.4 percent of respondents identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or “something else.”

“The millennial generation is one of the most self-identifying and confidently so that we’ve ever seen,” said Scott Bartosiewicz, president of Égalité Chicago. “We see more and more employees coming out every year, and particularly with younger employees, it’s not even coming out — it’s just who they are and they feel comfortable being their authentic self and not having to declare it.”

Égalité is the LGBT resource group for organizations in the Publicis Groupe, a network of public relations and advertising firms. Bartosiewicz, who oversees the Chicago division, works with local agencies including Leo Burnett Co. Inc., which has been recognized as one of the Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work for LGBT equality two years in a row.

As the number of LGBT employees increases, Bartosiewicz said it’s especially important to make sure they are providing the necessary policies and resources. Recently, Leo Burnett has turned its attention to providing benefits for transgender employees.

“We want to make sure employees that work here feel they’re in a comfortable environment,” Bartosiewicz said.

Maintaining a welcoming environment is also a top priority at Cisco Systems Inc., said David Posner, a diversity and inclusion manager at Cisco.

“You can come to work as yourself and Cisco is very adamantly in support of you being able to be yourself,” Posner said.

The company has a zero tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination against LGBT employees, as indicated in firm, clear language in Cisco’s employee code of conduct.

Additionally, human resources staff are trained to better understand LGBT concerns and address related issues with sensitivity.

“If I’m transgender and I call and want to see if I can still get my benefits or if I can get my name changed, the HR help desk can handle it in a sensitive way,” Posner said.

While the exact number of LGBT employees is hard to measure, Posner said there has been a definite increase in the number of workers participating in Cisco’s LGBT employee resource group, with the group’s members increasing to almost 500 from under 300 in the last two and a half years.

Additionally, Posner said that a number of employees have transitioned in the last few years, and that the company has worked with these individuals and their teams to ensure a positive experience.

“You get an employee who thinks they’ll lose their job when they transition,” Posner said. “What we do is we give them consulting and support.”

This support is essential, even from a purely business standpoint, said Posner, noting the monetary risk that comes with failure to retain LGBT employees.

“Stop and take account of the huge business case for being extremely inclusive,” Posner said. “You’re going to have a workforce that is going to want to stay with you, they’re going to be unburdened to give their best and to innovate.”

For companies looking to build a stronger support system for their LGBT employees, Bartosiewicz advises that organizations identify a company leader who will advocate for the cause. Égalité itself received sponsorship from Leo Burnett’s CEO of North America Rich Stoddart, who Bartosiewicz said was essential to building the firm’s LGBT resource group.

“Rich was an ardent supporter in the early days and made sure we had enough budget and resources and support to do the things we want to do,” Bartosiewicz said.

Further, Posner said organizations need a “world-class” human resources department to not only implement the best possible policies and benefits but also fine-tune them over time.

“If they’re willing to do that they’re really going to come out ahead,” Posner said. “You’re going to have a lot of real employee loyalty and a lot of good results.”