How to create a more inclusive workplace for LGBTQ employees

LGBTQ tech employees face a battle when it comes to getting hired and getting promoted.

What it means to be transgender in tech: The inside story Transgender women in the tech industry find that it's more difficult to get an interview when they have a female name on their resume.

Many employers have made progress on LGBTQ, and specifically transgender, inclusion policies in recent years. Some 85% of Fortune 500 companies have sexual orientation and gender identity protections enumerated in their own nondiscrimination policies, said Beck Bailey, acting director of the Workplace Equality Program at the Human Rights Campaign. 

"Today's employers must be inclusive to attract and retain top talent," Bailey said. "The more employees feel supported and valued, the more productive and satisfied they will be in their roles, which positively impacts the business's bottom line." 

However, more than half (53%) of LGBTQ employees still report having experienced or seen anti-LGBTQ behavior by co-workers, according to a recent Glassdoor report. 

SEE: Transgender employees in tech: Why this "progressive" industry has more work to do to achieve true gender inclusivity (TechRepublic cover story)

Here are tips for employers on how to create a more inclusive workplace for all employees.

Offer inclusive healthcare

Employers should seek out inclusive healthcare plans that cover transition-related care. Transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage means providing the same benefits for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (what the American Psychiatric Association defines as a condition where someone experiences discomfort or distress because there's a conflict between their biological sex and gender identity) that an employee would receive for any other diagnosis, which could include medical visits, lab procedures, pharmaceutical coverage, mental health counseling, and surgical procedures, Bailey said. 

Transgender people face several barriers when it comes to healthcare access, said Derrick Reyes, cofounder of Queerly Health, a health tech startup aiming to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and comprehensive healthcare. One in five trans and gender non-conforming people has been denied health coverage because of their gender status, according to a survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 

"For a long time, companies have done one-size-fits-all when it comes to benefits and healthcare packages, but we don't have one-size-fits-all lives," Reyes said. 

SEE: Hiring kit: Chief diversity officer (TechRepublic Premium)

Despite differing state laws, employees across the US can seek out insurance plans that do not contain exclusions, said Naomi G. Goldberg, policy and research director at the Movement Advancement Project (MAP). "Given the patchwork policies at the state level and the flux that's happening at the federal level, the onus really is on employers to do what they can to ensure that their transgender employees can access medical services just as their other employees can," she added. 

Make family leave and medical leave policies inclusive for LGBTQ families 

LGBTQ families may lack legal ties to the people for whom they are caring, Goldberg said, but they should still access the same family and medical leave as their peers. 

Provide ongoing anti-bias training for supervisors and employees

Training to combat unconscious bias is becoming increasingly common in the tech industry, with Facebook, Google, and other companies creating training programs in recent years. For this training to work, it needs to be ongoing and long term, with practices in place for it to lead to policy changes. 

Create policies for transgender employees and transitioning in the workplace

These policies should include how the transition will be communicated and how HR forms will change, Goldberg said. They also must be applied consistently, she added. 

Which bathroom will be available for the employee to use is also a key factor, said Lianna Newman, a senior consultant and full stack developer at Booz Allen Hamilton and the DC chapter head for the nonprofit Out in Tech. "The very bare minimum is to have a designated single stalled restroom that is also accessible—that actually does wonders," Newman, who identifies as nonbinary, said. 

(Nonbinary refers to people who experience their gender identity or express as falling outside the categories of male and female.)

Take job applicants' names off of resumes 

Adopting blind hiring processes—either through a tech tool, or by simply blacking out the applicant's name—can help hiring managers avoid unconscious bias during the process, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. 

Keep in mind that trans applicants, especially those who transitioned earlier in life, may have had fewer opportunities and resources than others, so consider hiring people who are at a more junior level and training them, said Brook Shelley, a senior partner engineer at Slack. 

Gender your employees correctly, and consider having all employees introduce their preferred pronouns

Using an employee's correct gender pronouns during and after a transition is key, said Delaney King, a freelance digital artist working in video games in Australia. If you do misgender someone, the best thing to do is quickly apologize, correct yourself, and move on, without lingering on it and drawing more attention to it, she added. 

"Going out of your way to gender someone is a wonderful way of letting transgender people know you're on their side, that you see them correctly," King said. "That can be a morale booster for the rest of the day." 

One way to ensure correct gendering is to have all employees participate, Shelley said. For example, in a meeting with new coworkers or clients, you can have people introduce themselves along with their pronouns, such as "Hi, I'm Alison, and my pronouns are she/her." 

Seek out resources

While it is important to include any transgender employees in discussions around creating policies and trainings, the work of educating the entire company should not fall only to them. The Human Rights Campaign offers a free Trans Toolkit for Employers, which includes a form for organizations to review their workplace policies and how inclusive they are, and a template for gender transition company guidelines. 

"In addition to doing targeted outreach to diversify your company, you also need to make sure the company has gotten to the point where it will be a welcoming and safe environment," Newman said. "If you haven't done that work, then all you're doing is bringing someone into a place where from the get-go, they're either going to walk out because they feel so unwelcome, or they're going to fail because the rest of the staff hasn't been caught up on how to interact with them." 

Make it clear that your company openly supports LGBTQ employees

Create employee resource groups, and make it clear on your public-facing materials that you have nondiscrimination policies in place and that you openly support LGBTQ employees. 

"We know from lots of studies that diversity in who you hire, how you hire, and who you retain helps drive innovation and ultimately the bottom line," Goldberg said. "It's not enough to just say 'Oh, we treat everyone equally.' You need to make sure people feel supported at work, because when they do, they are better employees and better colleagues, and again ultimately that drives the bottom line. It's not only good for your employees, it's good for your business." 

Also see

Hands waving rainbow flags

Image: Rawpixel, Getty Images/iStockphoto