Posted by Marcus Hall on Nov 29, 2022

In 2020, AnswerLab launched The Human-Centered Work Project, utilizing our core skills as researchers to study and iterate on workplace structures, policies, benefits, and culture, and making our learnings available to all. We’re continuing these efforts by turning our focus to the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community in the American workforce, what companies are doing now, and where there are opportunities for improvement.

To start, we conducted a literature review to evaluate and present best practices for how companies support LGBTQIA+ workers.

Below we’re sharing the resultsmaking them available publicly to give others a starting point for their own efforts.

Timeline: LGBTQIA+ Policy and Social Changes in the US

The Impact of Policy Change on Work Life

Putting it into Practice

Timeline: LGBTQIA+ Policy and Social Changes in the US

Color Key:

    • Positive non-federal law / political statement
    • Keystone event in history
    • Negative federal law / policy
    • Law that was a step forward at the time, but was ultimately harmful
    • Positive federal law / policy
  • 1924 - The first documented gay rights organization, The Society for Human Rights, was founded in Chicago. It was dissolved in 1925.
  • 1950 - Gay rights organizations Mattachine Foundation and One, Inc., were founded.
  • 1953 - President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order banning gay people from federal jobs which lasted approximately 20 years.
  • 1961 - Illinois becomes the first state to decriminalize homosexuality by repealing sodomy laws.
  • 1969 - Stonewall Riots: Police raid the Stonewall Inn in New York City and protests and demonstrations begin, later being seen as the beginning of the gay rights movement.
  • 1973 - Lambda Legal becomes the first legal organization established to fight for the equal rights of gays and lesbians.
  • 1975, January - The first federal gay rights bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation is introduced; it was never brought up for consideration.
    • 1975 - Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard P. Matlovich, a decorated Vietnam vet, is discharged for being gay. The Court of Appeals ruled 5 years later that his dismissal was improper and awarded him back pay and a retroactive promotion.
  • 1979 - The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights takes place. It draws an estimated 75,000 to 125,000 individuals marching for LGBTQIA+ rights.
  • 1982 - Wisconsin becomes the first state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • 1990 - Bill Clinton makes a campaign promise to lift the ban against gays in the military
  • 1993 - President Bill Clinton passes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), allowing gay men and women in the military to stay in service as long as they did not disclose their sexuality.
    • 1993-2011 - Over 12,000 military officers are discharged for being gay.
  • 2003 - The US Supreme Court strikes down the “homosexual conduct” law, which decriminalizes same-sex sexual conduct.
  • 2011 - President Barack Obama repeals DADT.
  • 2013 - Supreme Court rules to allow federal benefits to married same-sex couples.
  • 2015 - Supreme Court federally legalizes same-sex marriage.
  • 2020 - Supreme Court rules to protect LGBTQIA+ people against discrimination in the workplace at a federal level.

Within the last 20 years, policy in favor of LGBTQIA+ people has increased legal protections, protecting against discrimination and making a positive impact.

The impact of policy change on work life

While legal policy has improved for LGBTQIA+ citizens, they are still at higher risk than their heteronormative peers, and this also presents in work environments. A company’s leadership and environment heavily impact the workers within, and when company leaders push back against inclusivity, it creates a toxic environment for their employees.

We’ve seen this recently with Kraken’s CEO directly fighting against his own employees calling others’ words “toxic, hateful, racist, x-phobic, unhelpful, etc”.

Almost half of US LGBTQIA+ employees are still experiencing discrimination and negative impacts at work. Indirect discrimination, including not being hired or not receiving a raise for an unknown reason, also impacts minority workers (Krieger, 2000). Due to this, minority employees may feel like they are being discriminated against even without direct discrimination.

Discrimination and feeling at-risk while at work causes:

    • Stress
    • Greater inhibition (Cook J, 2011)
    • Less social support (Berkman et al., 2000)
    • Increased vigilance and suspicion (Russell et al., 2003)
    • Self policing / masking (Lattanner et al., 2021)
    • This can be especially true of individuals whose external performance is not hetero / cis-normative (Peel, 2022)

Why this matters

Impacts on Mental and Physical Health
These negative factors lead to less enjoyment and productivity at work and can also lead to worse mental and physical health. Many reports we examined showed that this type of stress and discrimination can lead to anxiety and depression, as well as illness (Cole, 1996, Lattanner et al., 2022). Those who lived in communities with high structural stigma even had a shorter lifespan (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2014).

Due to the additional stress and mental effort to self-police and mask their authentic selves, LGBTQIA+ colleagues have to focus on their job security and safety in addition to their work.

Impacts on Turnover and Retention:
Lack of policies combined with a negative environment can hurt a company's bottom line, including greater workforce turnover. A study from 2015 estimated that US companies could have saved around $9 billion by implementing diversity and inclusion policies for LGBTQIA+ staff (LGBT 2020 – LGBT Diversity Show Me the Business Case, 2015). This was calculated by combining estimated turnover, legal cases, and revenue lost by not supporting LGBTQIA+ policies.

In a 2017 study, 72% of participants said they would consider leaving their place of work for one that was more inclusive (“Business Success and Growth Through LGBT— Inclusive Culture,” 2019).

Conversely, diverse, positive, and supportive work environments improve both job satisfaction and productivity for LGBTQIA+ employees. 

  • Having diversity in a workplace with proactive policies can improve productivity overall (Cunningham, 2011).
  • There is a link between being authentically out at work and job satisfaction (Martinez et al., 2017).
  • A positive workplace experience decreases turnover and improves engagement at work (Steele et al., 2012).
  • Supporting non-normative behavior can also positively impact cisgendered workers whose presentation / actions are non-normative (Liu et al., 2020).

Putting it into Practice

In Practice: Supporting and Improving Interpersonal Relationships in the Workplace

Social support, both from supervisors and coworkers, improved job satisfaction and commitment to their workplace. For TGDNB (Trans, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary) workers, feeling supported by a supervisor was directly connected to job satisfaction (Huffman et al., 2020). Additionally, LGBTQIA+ workers who come out and are supported by their coworkers tend to be more satisfied and committed to their work (Law et al., 2011) (Cancela et al., 2020).

Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and internal support groups also provide an immediate support network for LGBTQIA+ employees. By having a visible entity, even new employees who don’t have strong social ties to their coworkers have an opportunity for support. Providing this structure can positively impact employees’ sense of safety, comfort, and productivity (Lee, 2002).

ERGs can:

    • Reduce turnover of managerial-level minority employees (Friedman & Holtom, 2002)
    • Decrease LGBTQIA+ employee feelings of isolation (McFadden, 2018)
    • Provide positive role model-building, mentoring and coaching, personal development, and widen access to new networking opportunities (McNulty, et al., 2018)
    • Quickly respond to a crisis, both internally and externally (Welbourne et al., 2021)
    • Provide expert opinion about new LGBTQIA+ policies (“Business Success and  Growth Through LGBT— Inclusive Culture,” 2019)

Using and Respecting Pronouns

Correct use of pronouns within a company displays critical support to both internal and external viewers.

  • Correct usage and respect of pronouns internally indicates support and acceptance to TGDNB (Trans, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary) employees (Huffman et al., 2020).
  • Use of pronouns in external materials such as biographies improved perception of the company, including a belief that the company was procedurally fair for sexual and gender minorities and that employees and managers were allies (Johnson et al., 2021).

While pronoun inclusion did not impact cisgender participants in surveys, pronoun inclusivity increased “satisfaction, comfort level, and perceived relevance of the questions” with genderqueer participants (Palancia et al., 2022).

In Practice: Internal Company Initiatives

LGBTQIA+ inclusion starts by companies looking inward and ensuring they have formal policies in place that set the tone internally. Inclusion of diverse policies show that a group has been considered and has value to the company, decreasing discrimination and negative experiences with others (Rostosky et al., 2009) (Button, 2001). Having pro-LGBTQ+ qualities acted as a buffer against negative mental outcomes (Hatzenbuehler, 2010).

Internal training initiatives

In addition to policy changes, training emphasizes to employees what is important to a company, and directly impacts worker views and behaviors.

  • Training improves the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ employees (Perales, 2022). It also educates and empowers coworkers to support LGBTQ+ coworkers (Greytak, 2013), and can improve attitudes about working with LGBTQ+ employees generally (Leyva et al., 2014).
  • If the training is internally visible to other employees, it can increase positive feelings towards the company from internal workers (both allies and LGBTQ+).

Training directly impacts how employees treat others, and in turn decreases discrimination and decreases structural stigma.

“Straight participants in these programs are twice as likely to recognize discrimination compared with employees at companies that do not have such a program in place. Allies are 3.3 times more likely to intervene when they witness such an event or comment.” - A New LGBTQ Workforce Has Arrived—Inclusive Cultures Must Follow

Providing same-sex benefits coverage

Many companies support their LGBTQIA+ employees through benefits which, while important for overall health, are now considered table stakes. A 2019 study of LGBT support in companies showed that 93% of companies offered same-sex benefits coverage (“Business Success and Growth Through LGBT— Inclusive Culture,” 2019).

In Practice: Externally-facing company initiatives

LGBTQIA+ Recruitment 

By discriminating against qualified LGBTQIA+ applicants, employers limit their talent pool substantially. In the U.S., gay men were less likely to be called back for a second interview compared to their straight male counterparts after sending out their resumes (Badgett, 2019).

Male and female gender dominant occupations respond differently to transgender applicants. For example, in female-dominant professions "employers were more likely to respond positively to cisgender and transgender female applicants than to cisgender and transgender male applicants" however in male-dominant professionals employers were more likely to respond positively to "cisgender male applicants, cisgender female applicants, transgender male applicants, and lastly transgender female applicants" (in that order) (Granberg, 2020).

Perceived LGBTQIA+ friendliness can draw more LGBTQIA+ job applicants to a company and/or state.

  • Highly educated and younger job seekers generally prefer to work for companies with LGBTQIA+-supportive policies and in states with LGBT friendly laws (Mallory, 2017).
  • Using gender inclusive language in job descriptions serves as an anti-bias technique to encourage applicants of different gender identities and sexual orientations to apply to roles ("Beyond Pride Guide to Hiring," 2021). This also presents a company as LGBTQIA+ friendly.
  • Leadership can also have a major impact on job applications. 65.7% of non-binary individuals search for female leadership before applying to jobs ("Beyond Pride Guide to Hiring,"  2021).
A Procter & Gamble Case Study

"For Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble (P&G), one of the barriers they face in recruiting LGBTQ+ talent is competition from companies in cities with stronger perceived equity within the LGBTQ+ community like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco ("Beyond Pride Guide to Hiring,"  2021).

P&G created the This Is Love campaign to "raise awareness around their culture and their city as welcoming places for LGBTQIA+ early talent." Two weeks after the event, P&G saw over 500 applications ("Beyond Pride Guide to Hiring,"  2021).

A best practice for increasing LGBTQIA+ recruitment is through one-on-one engagements through networks. Some companies will partner with secondary entities, nonprofits, and other companies to enhance recruitment efforts.

    • The luxury retailer Neiman Marcus group partnered with Reaching Out MBA, a non-profit organization that empowers LGBT+ MBA students and graduates, to recruit talent for their Executive Development Program ("Neiman Marcus Group Celebrates PRIDE," 2021).
    • On the Handshake platform, an online platform that facilitates the recruitment between companies/employers, post-secondary students, and alumni, employers are able to reach out to individual candidates who self-identify as either LGBTQIA+ or ally through their school organizations ("Beyond Pride Guide to Hiring,"  2021).

Supplier Diversity Programs

Making a conscious effort to work with a diverse set of vendors, including LGBTQIA+ vendors, is a best practice for inclusion. Supplier diversity programs allow "companies [to] respond to an important social need, help create a more equitable world, and build competitive advantage." for a wide range of people including LGBTQIA+ ("Accelerating Supplier Diversity," n.d.). LGBTQIA+ supplier companies experienced significant financial growth both in supplier diversity and in non-supplier diversity programs. In 2016, it was estimated that LGBTQIA+ business enterprises averaged about $1.15 billion in annual revenue. ("America's LGBT Economy," 2016).

Marketing To LGBTQIA+ Consumers

The collective buying power of all LGBTQIA+ Americans was estimated to be around $1 trillion in 2017 (Eisend et al., 2019).

Some corporations' public display of LGBTQIA+ support (e.g., campaigns, advertisements, presence at pride parades) is met with criticism because of their contradictory behavior elsewhere (e.g., donating to anti-LGBTQIA+ leadership).

  • For example, CVS received a perfect score on the the HRC Corporate Equality Index (CEI) while simultaneously supporting sponsors of anti-transgender policies in Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee through political action committees (PACs) (Helmore, 2021), including supporting two Republic state senators who co-sponsored legislation that declared gender-affirming medical care as child abuse (Helmore, 2021).

Many well-known companies are making intentional efforts to market their products to LGBTQIA+ consumers to enhance consumer loyalty.

  • Employers with progressive attitudes have a better chance of gaining the LGBTQIA+'s loyalty and its business (Hewlett, 2011). As early as 2004, 36% of Fortune 100 companies advertised directly to LGBTQIA+ consumers (Oakenfull, 2013). In 2013 American corporations spent about $212 million on print media for LGBTQIA+ consumers (Ibid).

Public Support of LGBTQIA+ Policies And Philanthropic Efforts

A combination of both internal and external forces motivate companies to support LGBTQIA+ public policies. Employee resources groups (ERGs) serve as drivers for companies to engage and support pro-LGBTQIA+ institutional change (Maks-Solomon, 2020).

"Pressure from well-organized and educated employees is a more powerful motive of corporate activity on LGBT rights. We identify ERGs as an important mechanism through which LGBT employees gain access to management and can convince them of the strategic economic benefits of taking a stand in support of LGBT rights" (Maks-Solomon, 2020).

A Case Study


IBM supported marriage equality because it has a long history of "fighting discrimination and promoting equality, fairness and inclusion," through supporting policies including Equal Opportunity policy written in 1953 and an amendment to its employee nondiscrimination policy in 1984 adding sexual orientation ("IBM Urges senate," 2021).

Corporations and businesses support philanthropic efforts in different ways including through donations, sales, and sponsorship to ensure their corporate philosophy is reflected in their actions with the public.

    • Neiman Marcus Group fundraises for the HRC through point-of-sale donation and the sales from pride pins ("Neiman Marcus Group Celebrates," 2021).
    • American Airlines was the first official airline sponsor of the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade with more than 100 team members from different working groups giving away merchandise to more than 100,00 attendees ("2018 Corporate Responsibility Report," 2018).

What’s Next?

Policy changes and workplace protections have increased LGBTQIA+ inclusion and made a major positive impact on work environments. But you may be asking yourself, what’s next? How does my company stack up? What changes and improvements could we make internally to improve LGBTQIA+ inclusion? 

As a part of the next phase of the Human Centered Work Project, we’ll be interviewing employees in a wide range of work environments. As we complete the research heading into 2023, we’ll be sharing our findings and resources for you to take back to your workplace. Subscribe to get the latest delivered to your inbox.

See the sources referenced in this article.

Written by

Marcus Hall

Marcus, a member of our AnswerLab Alumni, was a UX Researcher during his time at AnswerLab, specializing in qualitative research methods and dabbling in quantitative methods from time to time. With five years of research experience, Marcus has worked in different organizational settings to address stakeholder needs around user research, learning, and service design. Bilingual in English and Spanish, Marcus has lived internationally for a little over five years across Spain, Argentina, The Netherlands, and South Africa. He holds a Master of Public Policy (MPP) and a Master of Science in Information (MSI) with a concentration in Human-Computer Interaction from the University of Michigan. Marcus may not work with us any longer, but we'll always consider him an AnswerLabber at heart!

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