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LGBTQ employees regularly face discrimination at work. Here are 5 steps companies can take to be more inclusive

A new McKinsey & Co. report found that companies’ stated commitment to LGBTQ+ equity hasn’t yet translated into results.

LGBTQ employees regularly face discrimination at work. Here are 5 steps companies can take to be more inclusive
[Photo: Anton Ar.v/iStock]

In a profound victory for the LGBTQ+ community, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to protect LGBTQ+ employees against workplace discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This recent, stunning, unexpected, and long overdue victory gives millions of LGBTQ+ workers the civil rights protections they had sought for decades.

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This landmark ruling suggests a new era of equitable employment is taking place. It could also provide a needed boost to companies if they are able to leverage it to capture the benefits of a more diverse and inclusive workforce, which research indicates could contribute to improved resilience, decision-making, and overall performance, all of which matter more than ever in a tough economic environment.

For employers to realize these gains, however, they will have to complement public pronouncements with increased support for their own LGTBQ+ workforces.

There have been steps in the right direction. Hundreds of brands have demonstrated visible support by sponsoring Pride events, a record 206 corporations signed an amicus brief in 2019 advocating for the Supreme Court ruling to eliminate workplace discrimination, and many businesses have created employee resource groups or developed partnerships with LGBTQ+ organizations. Inside many companies, though, there is much left to be done.

A new McKinsey & Co. report, “How the LGBTQ+ community fares in the workplace,” found that companies’ stated commitment to LGBTQ+ equity hasn’t yet translated into results. LGBTQ+ employees, especially women, are underrepresented at every level of management. When they are represented, they are often the only ones in the room with their given gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or race or ethnicity. This translates into increased pressure to perform. Across industries, LGBTQ+ women are more likely to feel discomfort, discrimination, and even danger in the workplace than straight, cisgender women or LGBTQ+ men—even within companies that have pro-LGBTQ+ and pro-women policies and partnerships.

For trans employees, the situation is even more difficult. Trans people face especially sharp barriers to advancement and are much more likely to be an only. The study also showed that trans individuals are more likely to be in entry-level positions, and less likely to have sponsorship or support. It’s no wonder that they are also more likely to view their gender or sexual orientation as a barrier to advancement.

Our findings reaffirm what LGBTQ+ individuals have said for decades: They regularly face discriminatory barriers to professional success. It is not enough to incorporate a rainbow into a company logo, sponsor a float in a parade, or release a Pride-related product. Companies must actively challenge the status quo and examine their own internal policies toward LGBTQ+ employees.

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We are calling on corporate America to follow in the Supreme Court’s footsteps and make concrete steps toward improving workplace equity. Here are five ways companies can elevate their LGBTQ+ employees and create a safer, more inclusive workplace.

Create an inclusive culture

To stamp out demeaning behavior, companies must foster an inclusive culture, starting at the top. Leadership sets the tone for this overarching acceptance, and decisive, visible actions will promote it, both in terms of organizational policies and processes as well as clear leadership role modeling of things such as participative decision-making and advocacy for underrepresented groups. Companies can accelerate progress by implementing inclusion training to help all employees recognize and respond to problematic situations.

Support trans and nonbinary employees

Trans and nonbinary employees face unique challenges and especially sharp barriers to advancement in the workplace. It’s important for companies to create a trans-inclusive workplace and offer structural support. Making health coverage inclusive of trans people and supporting leave for transitioning colleagues will prevent these realities from becoming career barriers. Allowing employees to use the restroom facilities they find most comfortable (including all-gender options) and ensuring that HR systems are inclusive of all employees’ genders and pronouns will further promote inclusivity in the workplace.

Eliminate the ‘only’ experience

Expanding and connecting companies’ LGBTQ+ communities begins with the recruitment and hiring process. Proactively sourcing LGBTQ+ talent while creating an unbiased recruitment process will help prospective employees feel safe and increase applicants. Blind résumé screening, or removing names, gender signifiers, and affinity-group affiliations, will reduce the role of unconscious bias in hiring decisions. Beyond these practices, companies can also unite existing LGBTQ+ employees by creating dedicated LGBTQ+ employee resource groups.

Champion LGBTQ+ career progression with sponsorship

To ensure long-term support for the LGBTQ+ community, companies must commit to connecting LGBTQ+ employees with leaders committed to effectively nurturing their professional development. This includes making those leaders aware of the groups and resources designed to support the workplace experiences of LGBTQ+ employees.

Foster an inclusive remote workplace

Working remotely—especially in the post-pandemic era—poses unique challenges to ensuring all employees feel respected and safe, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. For example, videoconferencing from home can make public what is usually private, and online meetings can be isolating if the loudest voices dominate conversations. To create an inclusive environment online, company leaders should establish direct lines of communication with all remote workers to understand how they are doing and what support they might need, as well as encourage the implementation of virtual-working norms, such as rotating speaking roles.

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Improving inclusivity through these steps, based on our research and the voices of LGBTQ+ advocates, will make workplaces more positive and productive for everyone. Authentic support for the LGBTQ+ community can help retain talent, drive new business opportunities, and cultivate skill sets particular to LGBTQ+ employees. Good LGBTQ+ policies make for good business, and—most importantly—a more inclusive world.


Ana Mendy is a partner in McKinsey & Company’s Southern California office. Diana Ellsworth is a partner in McKinsey & Company’s Atlanta office.

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