LGBT: Legalization Doesn’t End Discrimination

A single court judgment does not a social change make.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal, discrimination still persists against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community, even at the governmental level. Take Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who stopped granting marriage licenses since the Supreme Court’s June decision. Meanwhile, 77 countries have anti-LGBT laws, a fact that complicates mobility for many members of the community.

That’s why Chris Crespo, the director in the Americas Inclusiveness Center of Excellence at accounting firm EY, works to alleviate stressors on its LGBT employees because of societal challenges that haven’t changed despite marriage legalization. Crespo talked with Diversity Executive, and edited excerpts follow.

What are the biggest issues LGBT employees face in the workplace?

Following the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, many companies are removing domestic partner benefits. While LGBT people can marry legally in the U.S., some may still face personal or societal challenges such as discrimination, credit issues and even workplace accommodation difficulties. As a result, many LGBT professionals still need the safety net of domestic partner benefits.

There are also issues that LGBT professionals face as part of working within a global organization. For example, many LGBT people travel globally for work assignments or meetings. However, there are still 77 countries that have laws against the LGBT population, which could result in incarceration or denied access to a country. This also extends to LGBT families who may run into mobility issues with job rotations and transfers leading to a loss of professional development opportunities.

What can employers do to help alleviate those problems?

Employers can help alleviate these issues by creating policies that include people of all differences and backgrounds. However, once inclusive policies are established, companies must practice them on a daily basis. At EY, we recently hosted our “Making It Real: Globally,” webinar, which provided global companies with tips on how to turn policies into practice. Some of the tips included recruiting LGBT advocates and allies at all levels of the organization to help influence policy; enhancing mobility and location options for LGBT professionals when global travel is required; and building and unifying global LGBT professional network resource groups.

How can companies build a culture that is more inclusive of LGBT employees?

Companies can create employee resource groups/professional networks for LGBT professionals and allies. At EY, we support our people globally through Unity, our professional network for LGBT professionals and their straight allies. Today, Unity has more than 2,400 members globally, hailing from all four of EY’s geographic areas. Additionally, companies need to make sure their leaders embed core diversity and inclusiveness efforts in all processes and across the entire organization, so that it becomes part of the company’s culture. At EY, it is reinforced through language and visibility, such as saying spouse instead of husband or wife and including examples of how difference and inclusion have led to successes for our people and our clients.

Why is it important for companies to establish policies that support LGBT workers?

Making sure that people’s voices are heard and valued not only helps companies attract and retain the best talent, it helps to deliver better approaches for clients and the overall organization. External organizations that are rated highly for diversity and inclusiveness efforts are 45 percent more likely to improve market share and 70 percent more likely to succeed in new markets. At EY, creating an inclusive workforce, where all differences matter, allows us to identify the risks and opportunities we might not otherwise see.