Employers need to embrace, not tolerate, LGBTQ employees

Actress and LGBTQ advocate Laverne Cox stands with attorney and transgender rights activist Chase Strangio, right, outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Register now

Jobs held by members of the LGBTQ community are now protected by the Civil Rights Act after a historic ruling by the Supreme Court, but employers have a responsibility to create an atmosphere that embraces — rather than tolerates — diversity.

“It is recommended that employers review their policies and training protocols to ensure that they adequately address the extended protections,” says Regina Faul, labor and employment chair at Phillips Nizer, a law firm specializing in labor issues. “Additionally, further training of managers, supervisors and employees should include best practices for implementing and maintaining a diverse workforce with a culture of inclusion and acceptance.”

More than 11 million people in the United States identify as LGBTQ, and the vast majority of them are employed (88%), according to a study by the National LGBTQ Worker’s Center, an advocacy group. Despite their representation in the workplace, a quarter of LGBTQ employees report experiencing workplace discrimination. HR groups are hopeful that the Supreme Court’s latest decision will help promote equality in the workplace.

“[The Supreme Court’s] vote is a great step for the LGBTQ community and offers a strong message of hope that no one should ever face discrimination for being who they are,” said Scott Cawood, CEO of WorldatWork, an HR association. “It is a welcome step toward equality.”

The recent vote ensures LGBTQ employees are protected from wrongful termination based on their sexual orientation. But ultimately, it’s up to employers to ensure that their workplace embraces diversity, says Corie Pauling, vice president and chief inclusion and diversity officer at financial services company TIAA.

“I think it’s so important for a company to take a stand and support LGBTQ employees,” Pauling says. “Whenever a company makes a policy change, it’s a strong statement of commitment.”

TIAA says they’ve been adding LGBTQ friendly programs and policies over the years, but in light of the Supreme Court’s historic decision, they decided to update their policies to be inclusive of transgender employees. The new policy says employees are entitled to choose their own pronouns, use their preferred restroom and dress in a way that feels genuine to their identity.

“The Supreme Court’s latest ruling seemed like the perfect opportunity to unveil our newest policies for the year,” Pauling says.

TIAA has been supporting transgender employees since 2012, when the company added gender reassignment surgery to their benefits plan. Every year, TIAA hosts a workshop to educate transgender employees about the benefit. It’s uncommon for employers to offer coverage for transgender surgeries; only 7% of employers covered the procedures in 2019, down from 10% in the two years prior. They also provide LGBTQ-friendly benefits like family planning support and adoption coverage.

“Organizations need to recognize employees’ in the way they want to transition, and be supportive of them during that journey,” Pauling says.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, large employers including Alphabet and Apple have expressed their support of their own LGBTQ employees. Alphabet is pledging $2.4 million in donations to LGBTQ organizations to celebrate Pride Month.

“Grateful for [the] decision by the Supreme Court. LGBTQ people deserve equal treatment in the workplace and throughout society, and today’s decision further underlines that federal law protects their right to fairness,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a tweet.

Pauling says the new protections are a huge step forward in promoting and celebrating inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. In honor of this year’s Pride month, which runs through June, Pauling says her company is in the middle of planning a virtual, company-wide Pride celebration.

“We know how important this celebration is to our LGBTQ employees, and we didn’t want COVID to get in the way of it,” Pauling says. “It’s important that we, as employers, show our support and that we care.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Employment and benefit-related legislation LGBTQ Sexual orientation discrimination TIAA Diversity and equality