Career Advice

Many LGBTQ+ Employees Feel They Can’t Be Themselves at Work—Here’s How To Find a Truly Inclusive Workplace

Emily Laurence

Photo: Stocksy/McKinsey Jordan
While it's great that during Pride Month, people, brands, and companies celebrate the LGBTQ+ community with parades, promotions, themed capsule collections—like Alo Yoga and Adidas, for two examples—and more, it's also important that serious issues with which members of the community contend aren't swept under a rainbow-colored rug during June or any other month of the year. While outwardly, many companies are posting on social media about inclusion at the workplace, a May 2021 survey released by Glassdoor found that many LGBTQ+ employees feel a distinct lack of just that.

Glassdoor's economic research team examined employee reviews from users who anonymously shared their sexual orientation and submitted a rating between one and five stars of their current or former employer. Results showed that LGBTQ+ employees rated their companies lower than people who did not identify as LGBTQ+, with strong disparities in satisfaction in areas including senior leadership, career opportunities, compensation, and benefits.

Scott Dobroski, the vice president of corporate communications at Glassdoor, said in a statement that he was not surprised by the study's findings. "Unfortunately, the data reaffirms what LGBTQ+ employees have been feeling for decades," he said. "What it shows is that LGBTQ+ employees are not having the same work experience as their colleagues [who do not identify as LGBTQ+]." With these survey results in mind, it's clear that a number of employers need to improve inclusion efforts on a grander level than Pride Month initiatives (if those are even present) in order to cultivate a workplace that supports and affirms LGBTQ+ employees.

Reasons LGBTQ+ folks are less happy at work than their colleagues

According to Dobroski, previous Glassdoor surveys have shown that 50 percent of LGBTQ+ employees believe being out at work will hurt their career, and 53 percent have witnessed or experienced anti-LGBTQ+ comments by colleagues. Furthermore, though it is now illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation (which was not the case just last year), diversity and inclusion strategist Randi Bryant says being out at work truly can impact one's career—and often, negatively so. "One reason is that people can't do their best work if they don't feel comfortable," she says, adding that if you feel you must hold a major component of who you are back out of fear of it limiting your forward career mobility or otherwise making for an unsafe space at work, your work may understandably be compromised.

"People can't do their best work if they don't feel comfortable." —Randi Bryant, diversity and inclusion strategist

Furthermore, even at a company that claims to be inclusive, there are certainly reasons one may hold back their sexual identity at work. Bryant says that people who identify as LGBTQ+ often experience myriad slights at once that can lead to their discomfort. This can include someone referring to them by the wrong pronouns, assuming they are in a heterosexual relationship when they are not, not having restrooms they feel comfortable using, or feeling singled out for their sexual orientation.

It also bears repeating that creating an inclusive workplace should not be a responsibility shouldered by LGBTQ+ individuals, who also absolutely shouldn't have to leave their job to find another one where they feel comfortable. But unfortunately, for many who do not feel safe or at ease at work, it may be the only or easiest option.

How to know if a workplace is truly inclusive

Before you even fill out an application or log on for a Zoom interview, Dobroski says there are a few facts about a company that can tip you off to whether it's an inclusive space. "Look at who the higher-ups in the company are and what they stand for," he says. "Are people who are LGBTQ+ in executive positions? If you research the company, what can you learn about the types of policies they support?"

One of the companies LGBTQ+ individuals rated the best to work for in the Glassdoor study was Apple, Dobroski says as an example. "It's not a coincidence that their CEO is an openly out gay man. Having that representation at the top reaffirms to people in the company that you can be out at work and get ahead."

When you are interviewing, Keith Plummer, the director of research and learning at corporate DEI consultancey Feminuity, recommends asking about the company's benefits package. "For example, find out if their family leave policy is inclusive of chosen family and not limited to loved ones related by strict blood or legal affinities," Plummer says.

Bryant says there are smaller—yet helpful—signs to look for, too. Does the job application only give the option to identify as a male or female? In the email correspondences, does the person at the company you're communicating with include their pronouns in their signature? Even better, do they ask you what pronouns you identify with? Are there gender-neutral bathrooms in the office? All of these are signs, she says, that a company is making an effort to be inclusive.

Plummer also encourages asking about what LGBTQ+ groups and resources are available at the company during your interview. "Many workplaces have employee resource groups for people who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), people with disabilities, and people who are LGBTQ+, among countless other identities such as womanhood, caregiving, age, and spirituality," they say.

While it's important to recognize that not everyone has the luxury of choosing where they work (many people just need a job), Bryant says that if a company isn't inclusive, it's not worth working for it—and that goes for folks of all sexual orientations. "If people refuse to give their talent to companies who aren't supportive of all people, it will force them to change," she says. She emphasizes that it's important to know your worth—a company will gain a lot by having you there. It's up to you to choose who gets to benefit from your talent.

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