Workplace diversity is the new normal.

It has now been more than 50 years since the first modern gay rights movement at Stonewall, a protest against police raids and brutality initiated by patrons of The Stonewall Inn in New York City. The LGBTQIA+ community has since made significant progress in securing greater social visibility, equal rights, and acceptance and equality at work. Yet, there is still considerable discrimination – and, in several countries, discriminatory laws – against the LGBTQIA+ community.

According to Human Rights Watch, “at least 68 countries still have national laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults” and “at least nine countries have national laws criminalizing forms of gender expression that target transgender and gender nonconforming people.” The legal penalties vary, but can include life imprisonment and even the death penalty in certain countries.

What gives?

Even in countries that deem discriminating against LGBTQIA+ people to be illegal, members of the community continue to face considerable challenges in the workplace – to the extent that feeling confident about their career progression, being upfront about their orientation (particularly as they move into management roles), and finding workplace cultures that are genuinely inclusive are still not common sentiments.

In fact, as recently as 2019, research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that gay applicants in OECD countries are approximately 50% less likely to be called for a job interview than their straight counterparts. The study also found that they earn 4% less than their heterosexual peers on average, and that they are 11% less likely to hold higher leadership positions.

What can be done now?

Though progress has definitely been made on building inclusive, supportive cultures for LGBTQIA+ talent at the workplace, there’s still a long way to go.

Thankfully, business leaders around the world are now beginning to really recognize diversity – in all its forms – as a key competitive advantage. With good reason. Diverse perspectives drive creativity and innovation, and foster a feeling of self-worth among employees – a feeling that their opinion matters, which in turn motivates them to put in their best effort and stick around.

So, how can leaders foster a fearless, inclusive work culture? Here are a few tips.

Walk the talk

Employees can very easily spot unauthentic behavior – which means that fostering an environment where authenticity is the norm starts with leaders walking the talk. Encouraging employees to be authentic helps create an open, safe work culture that goes a long way toward setting the foundation for a supportive community. Leaders who set the example for authentic interactions inspire their teams to aim high. In fact, leaders who fail to practice what they preach risk losing talent.

Openly LGBTQIA+ leaders such as Jeff Gennette, CEO of Macy’s; Stacey Friedman, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at JPMorgan Chase; and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, have been open about their identity at work, and actively advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community.

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Inspire engaged communities

Inclusive workplaces require a foundation of closely knit, supportive communities that are empowered by strong, authentic leaders. Such engaged workforces are not only empathetic, they are also quick to respond to varied individuals’ needs. Thus, it is important for leaders to ensure that they align their organizations’ DE&I goals to their overall corporate strategy.

This shows a strong commitment to inclusion, empowering employees to take charge and enact change.

Encourage open discussions

The stress of discrimination and the relentless battle for equal rights is no doubt overwhelming for the LGBTQIA+ community – or any other minority groups. Therefore, it’s crucial for leaders to support and engage in honest discussions that clearly let members of the community know that they are heard, understood, and supported at their workplace – and that, most importantly, they stand as much of an opportunity as anyone else to excel there, too. This also empowers employees to ask difficult questions, understand different sensitivities, and find ways to learn and grow together.

Leaders who build such an open environment also encourage a generally empathetic and open workplace for all their employees, who then feel motivated to work together to transcend challenges and exceed goals.


Looking ahead, the situation is obviously still far from ideal. There are numerous challenges that the LGBTQIA+ community will continue to face in the coming months and years. Hard-earned rights, too, may not always be permanent, as battles such as these are often fought on a slippery slope.

That makes it all the more important for companies to make every effort to nurture and reinforce the value of diverse individuals. Of course, this requires bold leadership – but the benefits by way of talent acquisition and a healthier, more productive workforce are manifold. Promoting authenticity, encouraging diverse yet engaged communities, and encouraging open dialogues on important issues are all great ways to get started on promoting a more inclusive work environment for LGBTQIA+ people.

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