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Beyond Rainbows: Supporting LGBTQ+ at Work

Person holding a rainbow Pride flag
Photo by Photo by Anete Lusina on

It is important to support the LGBTQ+ community actively, as simply showing support without taking concrete actions is not enough. Merely using rainbow symbols without making real changes does not lead to meaningful results. This performative support can have negative effects on some members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Performative allyship occurs when someone from a non-marginalized group claims to support and stand in solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that is not genuinely helpful or may even cause harm to that group. This type of allyship often involves the person acting as an ally receiving some form of reward, such as social media recognition for being a "good person" or "on the right side."

Companies need to go beyond simply using rainbow symbols for marketing purposes and instead take meaningful actions that drive progress. Organizations aiming to genuinely support and empower their LGBTQ+ employees must understand that true solidarity involves ongoing efforts beyond just displaying or selling rainbow-themed products for June.

Understanding LGBTQ+ experiences in the workplace

In recent years, significant steps have been taken to safeguard LGBTQ+ rights. For example, the 2020 Supreme Court ruling marked a milestone by outlawing workplace discrimination based on gender or sexual identity. However, despite these advancements, many LGBTQ+ individuals still do not feel fully accepted or at ease in their workplaces.

A report by the Human Rights Campaign looked into the experiences of gay, queer, and trans professionals. It found that 46% of respondents are still hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity at work. This is due to the fear of being stereotyped, making colleagues uncomfortable, or losing coworkers. Feeling comfortable enough to come out at work is important because people spend most of their lives there.

As an organization, where should you begin to provide support? When you choose to work with an organization specializing in Organizational Development and Talent Retention, just like ATS+Partners, you will get strategies to:

  1. Collect information on LGBTQ+ employees' representation and experiences in the workplace. Conduct employee engagement surveys to gain insights into employees' feelings about the workplace. Assure employees that these surveys are confidential and are intended to gather honest feedback.

  2. Conduct equity audits on talent processes and pay to ensure that the organization is not perpetuating pay gaps. This includes starting salary, merit increases, promotions, or other compensation aspects. It's important to take steps to mitigate the risk of biases affecting your hiring or performance management practices, especially when it comes to trans people of color.

  3. Ensure that LGBTQ+ leaders have the visibility and opportunity to influence business decisions. They should not be treated as mere figureheads. If your company lacks executive leaders from minority backgrounds, take action to address this lack of representation.

  4. Establish an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for LGBTQ+ employees. ERGs promote a sense of belonging by bringing together individuals who share similar experiences. The goal of ERGs is to enhance community, foster a sense of belonging, and promote empathy through the sharing of personal stories. By offering representation, we empower employees to be fully engaged.

  5. Make available a variety of mental health and career coaches. Learning and development (L&D) has a significant impact on employee performance, engagement, and retention. However, organizations must ensure that the L&D opportunities provided are accessible and inclusive to all employees, including those from marginalized backgrounds.

Genuine solidarity: supporting LGBTQ+ at work

Moving beyond performative allyship and rainbow washing requires organizations to take the time and make the effort to educate themselves, rather than simply relying on LGBTQ+ individuals to educate everyone in the organization. Here are a few resources to get started:

What to watch:

  • PRIDE, a 6-part documentary chronicling the struggle for LGBTQ+ civil rights in America from the 1950s through the 2000s

  • Paris is Burning, a documentary movie focusing on New York’s drag scene in the 1980s

  • The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, a documentary investigating the death of transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson

  • Disclosure, a documentary examining Hollywood’s impact on the trans community

  • Milk, a biopic of LGBTQI activist Harvey Milk

  • RuPaul’s Drag Race / Legendary / Pose, are popular shows for getting acquaintanced with drag culture, voguing, and ball culture respectively

  • Priscilla Queen of the Desert, a cult-classic film featuring the adventures of two drag performers and a transgender woman traveling across the desert

What to read:

It's important to recognize, honor, and protect the LGBTQ+ community every month. Supporting LGBTQ+ at work should be about tangible actions that organizations can take, rather than just posting vague messages on social media, to support the broader goal of making the workplace better for everyone.

Creating a safe workplace for employees means actively acknowledging the complexities of intersectionality and being willing to confront the discomfort in making meaningful change.


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