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As Pride month came to an end, observers reported progress has been made in supporting LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace in the past two decades, but ongoing research from McKinsey indicates that challenges persist.

“A record 206 major corporations signed an amicus brief in the spring advocating for the Supreme Court’s June 2020 decision protecting LGBTQ+ individuals from workplace discrimination,” stated McKinsey. “Companies are also increasingly making business-critical decisions about recruitment practices, employee-resource groups, and marketing that embrace LGBTQ+ rights.”

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However, the growing business case for inclusion has not translated into solid gains for the LGBT+ community within the workplace, the research firm said. For example, LGBTQ+ women are more underrepresented than women generally in America’s largest corporations. Just four openly LGBTQ+ CEOs head these corporations–only one of whom is female and none of whom is trans, according to McKinsey.

This can leave LGBTQ+ women and trans employees feeling isolated from one another, creating a more negative workplace experience, and affecting their motivation to become a top executive, the firm said.

McKinsey’s research also finds “that LGBTQ+ women face increased rates of sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender and orientation. Moreover, trans employees face a distinct set of obstacles to performance and career progression.”

Pressures faced by LGBTQ+ women in the workplace

To engage a new generation of workers and consumers—many of whom choose careers and products based on diversity and inclusion—companies must move beyond public gestures of support for LGBTQ+ issues to create a more positive work experience. Additional efforts are especially needed in a world—and workplace—with the added health risks and isolation of remote working in the coronavirus era, McKinsey added.

While LGBTQ+ women make up 2.3% of entry-level employees, they comprise only 1.6% of managers and even smaller shares of more senior levels. Their stress levels increase when they experience what McKinsey calls “onlyness,” or being the only one on a team or in a meeting with their given gender identity, sexual orientation, or race.

Employees who face onlyness also face even more pressure to perform, McKinsey said. “For LGBTQ+ women who are workplace minorities in both gender and sexual orientation, the ‘only’ experience is common—and particularly challenging—in corporate environments.”

Three in 20 LGBTQ+ women believe that their sexual orientation will negatively affect their career advancement at work, McKinsey said. For LGBTQ+ men, this number is even higher, at six in 20.

The McKinsey research also shows that LGBTQ+ women have reported microaggressions to their company—alerting managers to what can become legally sensitive work-culture issues that affect all women, even if straight women may be less aware of them. These include, for example:

  • Pressure to play along. LGBTQ+ women are almost twice as likely to feel the pressure to “play along” with sexual discussion, humor, or actions than their straight-women and male-LGBTQ+ counterparts.
  • Targets of sexist jokes. Half of LGBTQ+ women said they hear sexist comments or jokes about their gender while at work—1.5 times more than straight women and 2.6 times more than LGBTQ+ men.
  • Targets of sexual harassment. More than half of LGBTQ+ women reported having experienced sexual harassment over the course of their career, 1.4 times more than straight women, and 1.9 times more than LGBTQ+ men.

Areas where further progress on LGBTQ+ rights can be made

McKinsey recommends organizations take some concrete steps to improve the experience of trans people at work. These include making health coverage inclusive of trans people; supporting leave for transitioning colleagues; allowing employees to use the bathroom facilities they find most comfortable, including all-gender options; and ensuring that HR systems are inclusive of all employees’ genders and pronouns.

Companies can take steps to prevent and address microaggressions and demeaning behavior as well. For example, they can encourage companywide conscious inclusion training so that employees recognize and respond to inappropriate behavior. This training should include support, awareness, and sensitivity toward trans and gender-diverse colleagues and the proper use of pronouns and names, McKinsey advised.

The firm also recommends recruiting from a broader pool of candidates to reduce the “only” experience.

A better future: Women executives share their experiences

At last week’s Lesbians Who Tech Summit, speakers Jacqui Guichelaar, CIO and senior vice president at Cisco, and Stephanie Landry, vice president of Amazon Grocery, discussed their work and how their orientations have generally not been an issue in their jobs.

Both women also spoke about their respective heritages and what it is like being a gay woman, as well as a woman working in the technology field.

“I remember being at an event my first or second year at Amazon and going to the bathroom, and the lines for men were so long and I had never been anywhere where those lines were longer,” recalled Landry. “That was because of the composition of the company then.”

She said it is “hard to be female in tech and queer,” but that it is an important part of her identity.

Guichelaar spoke about her experience in Catholic school after her family moved from Uruguay to Australia. “I was dark-haired in a sea of blonds … and hated photos. It’s taken me a long time to like them. When you grow up being different it’s not necessarily a great thing.”

But as Guichelaar has gotten older, she said: “I’ve learned that being different is my superpower. I’ve turned it into a massive positive in my life.”

“There is a better future on the horizon—We just have to reach for it and keep fighting for it,” said Alicia Garza, principal of Black Futures Lab, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, during a speech at the summit.