In recent years, we’ve seen an increasing number of businesses publicly demonstrating their support for LGBTQIA+ people, both through public campaigns that champion queer and trans narratives and the development of internal business practices, often as part of wider inclusion strategies. 

Ellen Jones

In the current political climate, where LGBTQIA+ rights are contested and under attack, and where a potential economic recession has prevented companies from taking risks, the ability to show that inclusion may actively benefit businesses has been incredibly useful. The data is clear: LGBTQIA+-friendly corporate policies are both more profitable and lead to higher stock market valuations. 

But LGBTQIA+ rights to equality at work have only been enshrined in law in recent years. For example, it was only in 2020 that the US Supreme Court ruled that discriminating against LGBTQIA+ people on the grounds of their gender or sexuality is illegal. That was also the same year that the landmark Jaguar vs Taylor case ruled that non-binary people could be protected from employment discrimination in the UK. And yet, it's important to note that many regions elsewhere still have further to go to protect the legal rights of queer people.

So, what can supporting LGBTQIA+ people at work look like in practice?

1. Don’t out your staff

1. Don’t out your staff

It should go without saying, but businesses shouldn’t out their staff. When speaking with LGBTQIA+ people about their employment experiences, something that came up repeatedly was how many had been outed to their colleagues without their consent. This action is often rooted in a desire to be inclusive or in recognition of the historic lack of workplace inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community.

One employee I spoke to witnessed a colleague being outed before they’d even entered the building. “I worked in engineering in a predominantly cis male environment. One morning, one of the company’s owners—a cis woman—stood up and announced to the open-plan office that our new starter, arriving within the hour, was a trans woman and that we were to 'be nice.' 

“Her actions horrified me and I felt uncomfortable talking to her about it. When I finally brought it up, she announced that she knew some of the men would ‘be weird’ and make comments about the new starter ‘having masculine features.' It was one of many examples of her believing she was an LGBTQIA+ ally when she was, in fact, part of the problem.”

Recognizing how your business may be noninclusive is essential for change. However, there’s never any excuse to out LGBTQIA+ people, whatever your intention. Not only do you deny people agency, but you can also put them at significant risk.

2. Honor employees’ pronouns

2. Honor employees’ pronouns

Ensuring that your employees’ pronouns are honored should be the bare minimum, yet it’s something some businesses fail to do. It should be pretty easy to implement: you can add space for pronouns in email signatures or on name badges.

Trans and non-binary staff may feel unable to correct people, particularly if they’re junior, new to the business, or part of other underrepresented or historically excluded communities—so having advocates step in can be helpful. “My boss corrected people on my pronouns,” said Alex* (they/them), a non-binary person of color working in film and television. “For me, that was an absolute godsend.

Recognizing that each person is different and may need different support is essential—for example, some staff members may not be comfortable with others correcting their pronouns. Try to avoid making assumptions; if you’re uncertain about someone’s pronouns, ask about their preferred pronouns with compassion and sensitivity—consider leading with your pronouns first before asking someone else's. UK charity Stonewall has published some excellent guidance on pronouns in the workplace that may be helpful to employers in some locations.

3. Barriers happen outside of work

3. Recognize that LGBTQIA+ barriers happen outside of work too

LGBTQIA+ people don’t just experience barriers and discrimination at work; we experience them in all areas of life, like housing, medical care, and education. Recognizing these barriers and how they might manifest in the workplace, or even as part of the hiring process, is important. 

“I turned up for my interview at one job having spent the past 3 months sofa-surfing,” says James* (he/him), who was forced to leave home in his late teens after his family found out he was bisexual. “I got bullied all through school, so my grades were never fantastic, and then I had this gap in my employment history and no fixed address. I was lucky that they were able to see that I could do the job and gave me a chance.”

James’s situation isn’t uncommon; according to charity Akt, a quarter of all unhoused young people are LGBTQIA+. And, as the cost-of-living crisis escalates, more and more people are living in unstable environments. Employers must be aware of and consciously work to mitigate the barriers that LGBTQIA+ people face, such as being mindful that some may not have safe places for remote work. Additionally, it’s worth bearing in mind that not everyone experiencing discrimination will disclose this to their employer—they may feel ashamed, fearful of further discrimination, or wary that doing so might out them.

4. Review your policies

4. Review your policy documents and ensure they’re inclusive

Long-standing or antiquated workplace policies may not appropriately address the needs of LGBTQIA+ people. One person I spoke to was denied bereavement leave when their partner died because they weren’t legally married. 

Another individual found that their workplace’s maternity and paternity policies didn’t include LGBTQIA+ couples. The policy had to be rewritten for them and their partner because no one had thought about it before. “It was a stress we just didn’t need and didn’t expect to be such a big deal,” they said. Unfortunately, research shows this is far from a one-off incident.  

Audit your policies and check they’re inclusive—not only of the LGBTQIA+ community, but of a wide range of backgrounds and identities. You don’t have to start from scratch; lots of businesses are already doing the work. For example, London’s Studio Moross has developed an incredible new-parent leave policy to be inclusive of all new parents, irrespective of gender and sexuality or whether they become parents through adoption, surrogacy, a co-parenting agreement, or otherwise play a significant role in a child’s life. Not only does this benefit LGBTQIA+ people, but all types of families.

5. Train managers

5. Ensure managers have appropriate training

Inclusive policies provide an important foundation, but they don’t guarantee implementation. Rachelle Cox (they/she), a queer multi-hyphenate creative, found it particularly frustrating that her workplace’s public image differed so much from her lived experience. “When I worked for one of the UK’s largest supermarkets—[which has] a large presence at London Pride and had what seemed like good policies—discrimination still happened. It was down to the manager’s discretion as to whether or not the workplace was safe for LGBTQIA+ people,” Cox says. 

Especially within larger organizations, where staff may not have insight into HR functions or how policy decisions are being made, employees’ experiences are largely driven by the actions of their managers. Ensuring that managers are appropriately trained to implement policy and support LGBTQIA+ staff can keep inclusion an integrated part of business practice.

6. Degender uniforms

6. Degender your uniform policies

In 2022, Virgin Atlantic made its uniform policy gender-neutral, allowing staff to wear whatever garments best express their identities while maintaining the brand’s standard of professionalism. Several other aviation companies have followed suit.

If your business requires uniform, look into how it addresses aspects beyond just clothing. For example, having strict policies about hair length or make-up is exclusionary. Meanwhile, the coloring and style of hair, piercings, and tattoos can have a significant cultural meaning and history within (although not exclusively so) the LGBTQIA+ community. Honoring this, rather than attempting to suppress it, is important for culturally intelligent businesses and yet is often overlooked.

7. Share the workload

7. Don’t expect LGBTQIA+ people to do all the work

While it’s important to co-create inclusive practices using the insights and expertise of LGBTQIA+ staff, the responsibility for building inclusive workplace cultures shouldn’t be placed solely on their shoulders. 

Chloe Davies (she/her), head of social impact for creative agency Lucky Generals, says: “As a Black woman [who] has navigated more often than not white working spaces, I’d get asked, from a place of good intention: ‘Do you want to join the Black staff network?’ And I was like: not at the cost of my labor. It’s a hard place that we put people with more marginalized identities in—that we make them feel like they have to be the savior of their community.”

The balance between meaningfully engaging with a community while not placing the responsibility of change on them can be tricky. LGBTQIA+ staff may want to help drive change and share their thoughts, but some fear that they could face professional disadvantages if they share too many insights. Davies explains: “We need to be mindful of how we create those spaces. I think we need to be open; businesses need to know that they’re going to hear things that they don’t want to hear. Creating those safe spaces means protecting those people who share.”

8. Support your leaders

8. Support your leaders

Recent research in the UK revealed that 28% of LGBTQIA+ CEOs had been explicitly told to hide their sexuality at work, compared with just 9% of LGBTQIA+ employees more broadly. Not only does this suggest that professional progression might be contingent on concealing an LGBTQIA+ identity, but it raises concerns about how committed businesses are to building inclusive workplaces. Plus, 40% of LGBTQIA+ women believe that they have to outperform their colleagues to be considered for promotion.

But if you’re an LGBTQIA+ leader or aspiring leader, do you have to be open about your identity? Is it your responsibility as a leader? There are no easy solutions to these questions, but finding support from peers and organizations can be a start. 

WE CREATE SPACE offers self-leadership programs in recognition of the lack of support afforded to LGBTQIA+ leaders. “Through this transformative process, participants gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world, ultimately enabling them to lead authentically and purposefully,” says the social enterprise’s CEO and founder Michael Edward Stephens (he/they). “We’re honored to offer this program to the LGBTQIA+ community and welcome all individuals committed to their personal growth and leadership development.”

9. Develop knowledge and education

9. Partner to develop knowledge and education

Sometimes, it’s not intentional malice that harms LGBTQIA+ workers, but a fundamental lack of education or appropriate vocabulary to talk about the LGBTQIA+ community. There are some incredible programs—like Stonewall’s Trans Allies Training—that are designed specifically for people with little to no knowledge but who want to be more inclusive of trans people at work. 

LGBTQIA+ staff or leaders might be happy to educate about LGBTQIA+ matters within your organization, but that doesn’t mean they should have to, nor that they can speak to all experiences. Working collaboratively with third-party organizations to drive meaningful inclusion can help take the responsibility off individual members of staff and integrate inclusive practice into the business culture.

10. Look after your staff

10. Look after your staff (including yourself)

It’s no secret that anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment is rife right now, even in so-called progressive countries; in the first 3 months of 2023, almost 500 anti-trans bills were introduced in the US. The emotional strain of this knowledge can’t be overstated and, when your rights and freedoms are threatened, it can be incredibly hard to show up at work and get on with your job.

Businesses should invest in employee wellbeing, but LGBTQIA+ leaders can help drive change by being good role models – though, as previously mentioned, they shouldn't be burdened with this responsibility. Showing vulnerability is not only a skill of great leaders, but it’ll help LGBTQIA+ staff recognize that prioritizing their wellbeing is important in the workplace.

* Some names have been changes to protect people's identities.
This content is for information purposes only and information provided should not be considered legal advice or a substitute for obtaining such advice specific to your business. Applicable laws may vary by country and locality. Intuit Inc. does not have any responsibility for updating or revising any information presented herein, and the information provided should not be relied upon as a substitute for independent research.