​DEI Spotlight: LGBTQ2IA+ Inclusion at Work

Author(s): Elysca Fernandes

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Today is a day to celebrate – May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

The discussion about identity has been hard fought, and there is a new focus on organizations to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI). We believe that we can get more granular in identifying ways that organizations can not only be against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, but also celebrate members of the LGBTQ2IA+ community in places where we spend most our time like our work environment and with friends and family.

When it comes down to it, our community needs your support. Members of the LGBTQ2IA+ community are “underrepresented in corporate environments, and many report being an “only” in their organization or on their team—the only lesbian or the only trans person, for example” (Balinson et al., 2020). We are a nonvisible minority and are often overlooked and sometimes ridiculed in our homes and workspaces for being out and simply not conforming to the norm (and/or for being queer). Not being able to bring your authentic self to work is problematic on a variety of levels. New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center survey reported in March 2020 that “40% of LGBTQ employees are closeted at work” (Dupreelle et al., 2020).

For both LGBTQ2IA+ employees and their employers, this can be damaging. According to BCG’s survey “75% of respondents reported experiencing negative day-to-day workplace interactions related to their LGBTQ identity in the past year” (Dupreelle et al., 2020). Not having a welcoming environment and inclusive culture for LGBTQ2IA+ employees has been proven to stifle innovation, negatively impact retention rates, and can impact the quality of the talent pool and most importantly the quality of life for employees.

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done to create inclusive workplaces for LGBTQ2IA+ employees. So, what should organizations do?

Organizations committed to DEI are responsible for building safe and inclusive workplaces that welcome LGBTQ2IA+ employees to bring their whole selves to work.

Inclusion is a state in which all employees feel a sense of belonging, valued for their differences, and empowered to participate and contribute freely. LGBTQ2IA+ inclusive workplaces will need to create an organization-wide environment that respects individuals’ gender identities and sexual orientations and empowers employees to self-identify and be out at work if they choose to do so.

1. Vocalize that LGBTQ2IA+ inclusion is a priority across the organization.

For example:

  • Explicitly communicate inclusion as an organizational priority.
  • Take a stance against LGBTQ2IA+ discrimination at work. This should include communications and policies against discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
  • Ensure active leadership commitment to LGBTQ2IA+ inclusion, role modeling inclusive behaviors and participating in celebrations such as Pride at work.
  • Have managers echo a stance against discrimination on their teams and communicate support for LGBTQ2IA+ employees. Managers need specific training on inclusive leadership behaviors and allyship with the LGBTQ2IA+ community.

2. Build awareness and accountability for LGBTQ2IA+ allyship across the organization.

  • Train all managers and employees on allyship in the workplace, engaging allies in reflecting on their own power and privilege and enabling them to take accountability to create inclusive environments. See McLean & Company’s Training Deck: How to Be an Allyand LMS Download: Foundations of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion.
  • Provide targeted education and internal training on concepts such as the difference between gender identity and expression, examples of inequalities LGBTQ2IA+ employees face at work, the organization’s anti-discrimination policies, and how to be an ally in these specific situations. For example, in Canada, we’ve linked resources from Pride at Work and the 519 on LGBTQIA+ inclusion at work in our sources below.
  • As our Director of DEI at McLean & Company, Cinnamon Clark, puts it, to be authentic “people cannot just label themselves allies, they must work at it and do it even when it is uncomfortable. Allyship is a verb.”

3. Listen to LGBTQ2IA+ employees and respect privacy.

  • Measure inclusion in the workplace to uncover the lived experiences of employees and the specific challenges to LGBTQ2IA+ inclusion at your workplace. For example, use DEI pulse surveys to measure the state of inclusion, hold focus groups specific to the LGBTQ2IA+ community (in addition to general employee base focus groups), and listen to the requests of LGBTQ2IA+ employee resource groups (ERGs).
  • Within surveys, focus groups, and individual interactions, prioritize protecting the right to privacy around sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity. Here at McLean & Company, we increased anonymity thresholds on DEI survey responses segmented by sexual orientation and gender identity and have specific ground rules around confidentiality for focus groups. There are plenty of reasons LGBTQ2IA+ employees may not share their identity with specific individuals (e.g. clients or customers, employees); ensure employees are empowered to self-identify when they prefer and to the audience of their choice.

4. Create an environment that challenges norms around gender identity and expression and sexual orientation.

  • Enable employees to self-identify their pronouns and name, either being able to change it in HR systems that capture personal information or designating a clear point of contact for employees to have name or pronoun changes reflected in all organization communications.
  • Normalize introductions, profiles, or email signatures with pronouns and name; providing simple instructions for all employees to do so. When cisgender individuals (individuals whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth) use their pronouns in introductions, this helps combat assumptions around gender identity and creates room for transgender, non-binary, and gender fluid individuals to share their own pronouns. Always use the pronouns and names each individual shares with you.
  • Communicate across the organization that all sexual orientations and gender identities are valid. Share basic conversation ground rules of not questioning the validity of anyone’s identity. For example, organizations need to combat “bi-erasure” (a form of biphobia that discredits bisexual peoples’ sexual orientation) or transphobia through a refusal to acknowledge transgender individuals’ identities.
  • Use gender-neutral language in policies, benefits packages, signage, and communications. This includes using gender neutral pronouns like “they” instead of “he/she” to ensure that individuals who identity as non-binary, fluid, or not with “he/she” are represented. It also includes referring to individuals with caregiving responsibility as “caregivers” rather than “parents,” and relationships with “partners” to challenge norms around relationship and family structures. Physical workspaces should include gender-neutral washrooms and signage.
  • Beyond language, ensure that benefits packages, dress codes, and policies themselves provide coverage for LGBTQ2IA+ employees (caregiver policies, coverage for transition costs, etc.).

5. Combat instances of discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation before, during, and after they occur.

  • Provide education on inequalities facing the LGBTQ2IA+ community, inclusive leadership, anti-harassment, and the organization’s policies. This helps to prevent and mitigate harm due to homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia from occurring through education.
  • Additionally, recognize that instances of discrimination historically have and still do occur. Prioritize the safety and support for LGBTQ2IA+ employees in instances of discrimination. Allies should be trained in challenging instances of discrimination, and reporting and investigation mechanisms should be clearly outlined. Provide multiple options of safe spaces (e.g. ERGs, specific individuals) to raise concerns, and outline specific organizational roles, responsibilities, and timelines for addressing concerns. For example, in Ontario, Canada, the Ontario Human Rights Commission provides policy guidelines for preventing sexual and gender-based harassment.

Beyond the organizational level, we invite every individual to take action now. Use this day as a reminder to be the change you want to see. Do not just say “Happy International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia” to those you assume identify as such; unless expressly welcomed by the individual, that can be problematic and make people feel uncomfortable. Instead show your commitment to being inclusive and an ally in this world by showing respect for those who may suffer on their own – a great first step is seeking out opportunities to learn and grow. Additionally, listen first and consider others’ lived experiences may differ from your own. Try not to speak with only your lived experience in mind, and when speaking about your experience, use “I” statements. It’s when that mindset shift takes place on an individual level, we can see the systemic shift to being inclusive as a society, in our personal lives, and at work – and this is only the beginning of our DEI journey!

To learn more about how McLean & Company can partner with you on your DEI journey, please visit our DEI Resource Center or contact Jon Campbell at jcampbell@mcleanco.com.

By Jonathan Jackson and Elysca Fernandes


  • Bailinson, P., et al. “LGBTQ+ voices: Learning from lived experiences.” McKinsey Quarterly, 25 June 2020. Accessed April 2021.
  • Dupreelle, P., et al. “A New LGBTQ Workforce Has Arrived—Inclusive Cultures Must Follow.” BCG, 23 June 2020. Accessed April 2021.
  • Grenier, A. and J. Hixson-Vulpe. “Beyond Diversity: An LGBT Best Practice Guide for Employers.” Great Place to Work and Pride at Work Canada, 2017. Accessed April 2021.
  • Hixson-Vulpe, J. “Creating Authentic Spaces: A Gender Identity and Gender Expression Toolkit.” The519, 2017. Accessed April 2021.
  • “Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, May 2013. Accessed April 2021.

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