June is Pride Month and an important time to show support for historically marginalized LGBTQIA+ employees. As with Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s a time to amplify voices, share resources, and break down stigma. Also similar to mental health, it’s important to make for employers to continue these conversations throughout the year.

Over 8 million workers in the U.S. identify as members of the LGTBQIA+ community. While attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace have progressed in past decades, there are still many challenges, according to a 2021 study by the Williams Institute.

  • Almost 46% of LGBT workers reported unfair treatment at work because of their sexual orientation or gender.
  • 31% of LGBT respondents experience harassment in the past 5 years.

Unfair treatment or harassment can be direct, like not getting a promotion because you’re gay or being fired because your trans (this is also illegal). It could be harassment from other employees, including sexual harassment, bullying, or both. Or it could be a hostile work environment that promotes or doesn’t discourage the use of derogatory words. For example maybe an employee isn’t directly calling another employee a derogatory term, but they may use those terms when telling jokes or stories. All of these examples take their toll on the health and wellbeing of your LGBTQIA+ employees.

The Effects of Workplace Harassment

From a human perspective, creating a safe space for your employees is the right thing to do. You should care about your employees as people. They should feel safe at work, and they should feel like their employer wants them to be safe at work. If for no other reason, it makes good business sense for your employees to feel safe and have a sense of wellbeing. When an employee is harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, it can have a profound impact on their health and productivity.

Higher Healthcare Costs

Harassment and bullying of any type result in a higher risk for stress, anxiety, depression, substance use, and chronic conditions like heart disease, which increases your healthcare costs. Unaddressed stress alone accounts for 8% of an employer’s healthcare costs. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are already at a higher risk for mental health issues. Further harassment at work would only worsen the situation.

Lower productivity

Workplace harassment also translates to lower employee morale and higher absenteeism and presenteeism. Lost productivity is a huge cost driver for employers, totaling as much as $500 billion per year annually.

Higher Turnover

The 2021 Williams Institute study found that almost 34% of LGBT employees have left a job because of how their employer treated them over their gender identity or sexual orientation. It costs 40% of an employee’s base salary to hire a new employee with benefits.

Other Employees Are Impacted Too

Witnessing workplace discrimination can affect others than the victim. It can result in decreased productivity and increased absenteeism among the wider workforce. It can also result in higher turnover and an a higher chance of someone suing their employer for creating a hostile workplace.

How to Create a Safe Workplace for Your LGBTQIA+ Employees

To create a environment that promotes the health and wellbeing of your LGBTQIA+ employees, set expectations that all employees are to be treated with respect regardless of personal beliefs. Define what appropriate behaviors are (e.g., using preferred pronouns and names) and provide training to leadership and employees on appropriate terminology.

Update anti-harassment and discrimination policies to include members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Ensure they include protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. Also update communications, policies, and forms to eliminate gender-based pronouns (e.g., instead of “he/she” use “they”). Update policies so people know how to report an incident and so management knows how incidents should be handled. Train all employees on these policies yearly or during onboarding.

Identify internal ambassadors and allies for two reasons: Firstly, so your LGBTQIA+ employees know they have support, and secondly so other employees know to whom they can ask questions. And make sure they know it’s okay to ask questions. Don’t know what “they/them” pronouns mean? The identified ambassadors and allies can provide that info. It’s okay not to know everything.

When you step back and look at it, these are likely things you’re already doing. Your organization probably already has an anti-harassment policy. You likely do anti-harassment training if not DEI training. Making a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community is simply appending those existing efforts to include a group that has the same right to work in a protected environment as everyone else.