Employee engagement

3 Ways to Support LGBTQI+ Employees in Pride Month & Beyond

Connie Du
June 14, 2023
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In recent years, the concept of “bringing your whole self to work” has gained momentum. But research shows that, for LGBTQI+ employees, many environments still aren’t safe enough to bring every aspect of who they are to the workplace. In fact, the Center for American Progress found that half of the LGBTQI+ participants in its 2022 study had experienced discrimination or harassment at work within the past year.

This Pride Month, while corporate ads, slogans, and social media campaigns support LGBTQI+ equity abound, it’s critical to consider how organizations can move beyond performative allyship and “rainbow-washing” toward creating environments that are truly safe and inclusive for all employees.


pride parade

Key ways to support your LGBTQI+ employees at work

Your organization may be bursting with employee Pride, but if leaders aren’t sure how to talk about Pride Month at work, a powerful opportunity for celebration, education, and connection can pass right by.

Here are a few thoughts on how you can support your LGBTQI+ colleagues during Pride Month and beyond:

💡 Diversity and inclusion is a value-add for organizations. Download this fact sheet to see how!

1. Encourage empathy

First, let’s talk about interpersonal inclusion. It’s generally what we think of when we think about inclusion in the workplace—it’s how employees interact, connect, and communicate with each other. And it’s also how an organizational culture is formed.

To create a truly inclusive culture, encouraging empathy among colleagues is paramount. And for non-LGBTQI+ workers, listening to the experiences and perspectives of LGBTQI+ colleagues can be a powerful way to gain understanding.

Some organizations find it helpful to set up structured learning opportunities, including:

  • Experience talks, in which LGBTQI+ colleagues or guests speak about their experiences within certain industries.
  • Expertise talks, in which a LGBTQI+ colleague or guest speaks about a relevant business topic, serving to diversify an organization’s speaker set while also supporting educational goals.

Of course, co-workers sharing experiences with each other in less formal ways is an invaluable way to learn and build empathy. But it’s important to note the very real challenges LGBTQI+ employees face in openly discussing their lives in many work environments.

“Operating with empathy is the ultimate way to forge a more equitable and inclusive culture, and this has to be embedded into the overall company culture.” – Sander van ‘t Noordende, CEO, Randstand

“We often hear from straight, cisgender leaders that one of the biggest challenges to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace is the lack of exposure to what life is like for LGBTQ+ people. We can all benefit from listening to new perspectives, stepping outside of our comfort zones, and considering what life is like for people with identities that are different from us.” – The National LGBTQ+ Bar Association
pride love


2. Know that small talk is no small thing

Whether it’s catching up in the office after a weekend or engaging in virtual watercooler talk, work environments demand a certain level of sharing and chit chat among colleagues. But small talk is no small thing.

In its most recent national study, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Workplace Equality Program determined that 36% of non-LGBTQI+ workers feel uncomfortable hearing a LGBTQI+ colleague talk about dating, and 59% of non-LGBTQI+ workers think that talking about sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace is unprofessional.

In other words? LGBTQI+ employees may feel they have to carefully navigate conversations that their non-LGBTQI+ colleagues breeze through without a second thought. In some environments, LGBTQ+ workers still feel they have to avoid even mentioning a same-gender or nonbinary partner.

“ . . . a double standard for LGBTQ workers persists in significant ways where they receive a message that their sharing is not welcome.” –  A Workplace Divided, Human Rights Campaign Foundation

Still, connecting about non-work-related topics is an important way for colleagues to build and strengthen relationships. Conversational signals that can help LGBTQI+ employees feel safe talking about their personal lives include:

  • Avoiding heteronormative assumptions (e.g., if a woman mentions they’re married, don’t assume “husband” is the word to use for their spouse)
  • Using neutral terms like “partner”, “significant other,” or “spouse”
  • Avoiding a binary assumption of gender (e.g., instead of saying “ladies and gentlemen,” use neutral language: “Hi, everyone”)
  • Sharing gender pronouns
  • Using inclusive vocabulary

“Using gender-neutral and anti-ableist language isn’t about just being politically correct … It’s about allowing yourself to broaden your perspective. Language is powerful and doesn’t only affect the listener, but also the user. By taking the extra energy to be more mindful of the language we use, we’re training new circuits in our brains and becoming more aware of how certain language can create a more supportive work environment.” – Sayume Romero, speech pathology student and LGBTQ activist

3. Audit your organizational policies

For HR professionals, the engagement and wellbeing of all employees—including their safety, security, and peace of mind—is a primary concern. And counting on organizational guidelines or EEOC regulations isn’t sufficient.

After all, it wasn’t until June 2020 that the Supreme Court actually ruled it illegal to fire someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And in many organizations, plenty of heteronormative or discriminatory policies still remain in employee handbooks.  

If you’re in an HR role, consider whether your organization:

  • Offers benefits to domestic partners.
  • Clearly communicates what constitutes harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
  • Explicitly includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its nondiscrimination policy.
  • Uses equitable language in its policies (e.g., “parental leave” instead of “maternity leave”).
  • Requires a dress code that reinforces gender stereotypes.
  • Offers healthcare benefits covering transgender and mental health support.
  • Offers support and the appropriate office amenities for employees who are non-binary or transitioning.

💡 Diversity and inclusion is a value-add for organizations. Download this fact sheet to see how!

pride heart

For more information

If you’re looking for information about what other equitable and inclusive organizations across the country are doing to support their LGBTQI+ employees, check out the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index. The Foundation’s Trans Toolkit for Employers is also a valuable tool in setting up your organization to be transgender-inclusive. For questions about healthcare benefits, reach out to your insurance broker to understand your options.

71% of the Fortune 500 [...] offer transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage, up from 0 in 2002 and 22 times as many businesses as twelve years ago. – Corporate Equality Index, Human Rights Campaign Foundation

Next steps

What is your organization doing to support your LGBTQ+ employees: Tell us in the comments below.

Additionally, check out these additional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resources from Bonusly:

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