Companies offering LGBTQ-friendly policies at record high
When Josh Israel and his husband adopted their son in 2016, he was given 12 weeks of paid parental leave to care for their newborn. Being a first-time parent was terrifying at first, he said, but being able to take time off gave him time to bond with and care for his son.
“I think most of all it gave me the confidence to feel like ‘I’ve got this’,” Israel says. “The first few weeks was about figuring things out, and having to be the one who feeds him, puts him to sleep, and just having one-on-one time, enabled me to build a unique relationship with my son.”
Israel’s employer, public policy research and advocacy organization Center for American Progress, was supportive and encouraging during the adoption process, he says.
“They could not have been more helpful,” Israel says. “I emailed the HR team after the birth, and within an hour they had added our son to my health insurance, which was a great relief.”
Although employers like Israel’s have become more supportive of LGBTQ workers, many are still not getting the support they need from their companies. One of the biggest challenges today is workplace cultures not being fully inclusive, and bias, sometimes unintentional or unconscious, toward LGBTQ employees, experts say.
The number of LGBTQ workers nationwide feeling compelled to be in the closet on the job has remained at above 50%, which means that many employees still feel pressure to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity at work, according to studies made by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization. In addition, benefits policies that skimp on offerings including adoption, surrogacy and paid parental leave may be leaving out this population when it comes time to start a family.
“Roughly half of LGBTQ people still feel they're still in the closet at work,” says Beck Bailey, director of workplace equality program at Human Rights Campaign. “They get signals in daily interactions at work that tell them it's not necessarily okay to be out.”
Some companies also lack transgender inclusive benefits, including hormone replacement therapy, gender reassignment surgery, and mental healthcare benefits.
“This is about having access to what is truly lifesaving care for transgender people,” Bailey says.
But despite this, companies are making progress. The number of U.S. companies putting policies in place to protect LGBTQ employees reached a record high in 2018, according to a corporate equality report from Human Rights Campaign.
“LGBTQ rights have come so far in 10 years,” says Tammy Sun, founder and CEO of Carrot Fertility, a fertility benefit provider. “When you look back over the past 10 years, you see leading indicators, and cultural signals, that this change about to happen. It was inevitable that fertility benefits was becoming a standard part of healthcare.”
Federal law and insurance policies are lagging and companies are moving faster when it comes to making fertility benefits available to employees, Sun says.
Many companies are championing equality through public and policy support, as well as creating a safe and accepting workplace. Employers are, for example, increasingly offering benefits like adoption and surrogacy reimbursement, as well as gender-neutral parental leave.
In July 2018, accounting and consulting firm PwC decided to extend its adoption reimbursement to cover surrogacy. PwC employees are now reimbursed for up to $25,000 for surrogacy and adoption per child.
The benefit, available to 46,000 employees, is for those who have been with PwC for three months as of the date of the child’s birth, adoption placement or foster placement, and is either a U.S. full-time staff member, or works part-time at a minimum of 20 hours per week.
“We always want our people to know that their personal journeys are supported,” says Jennifer Allyn, diversity strategy leader at PwC. “For our LGBTQ+ staff, our hope is that our benefits will empower them to feel both professionally and personally fulfilled at PwC, and it will help inspire them to bring their full selves to work and continue to drive forward an inclusive workplace.”
It was an employee who inspired the company to explore surrogacy benefits, Allyn says. Ryan Layman, a director in PwC’s Dallas office, and his husband decided to use a surrogate to start their family, and by sharing his story, he put the topic on the company’s radar.
“Ryan approached our chief diversity and inclusion officer on the topic to ask whether the firm would consider covering surrogacy since the process is so expensive,” Allyn says. “We always strive to support our staff’s family journeys, whatever that means to them, so listening to their feedback is in our best interest.”
Although Josh Israel’s employer was supportive of him becoming a parent, he says he has talked to people working in other sectors who have different experiences. Even though some employers have generous leave policies for those who give birth, they haven’t necessarily contemplated that it’s just as important for those who adopt to bond with their child, he says.
“Even looking at politicians who advocate for paid family leave, it’s all very focused on people who give birth, and not anywhere near enough to recognize that there are a lot of different families,” Israel says. ”No one should have to choose between their job and their newborn.”