The path to LGBTQ+ equality continues to be a rocky one. On one hand, the Biden administration recently announced that gay and transgender people will (once again) be protected from discrimination in health care. At the same time, we are experiencing a wave of anti-transgender legislation across the nation.
My first foray into LGBTQ+ workplace issues came when I was invited to co-lead OUTburst, Yelp’s employee resource group (ERG) for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. New to this work, I reached out to folks at other companies who held similar roles to gain insight. I quickly noticed that many of us were asking similar questions and so I founded a network for leaders like myself: Queer Mornings. During our regular meetups I learned a lot — not only about what it means to lead an ERG, but also what it means to help create a work culture where queer employees like me are not only welcome, but can thrive. Corporate leaders can do a lot to make companies more inclusive for LGBTQ+ employees. Here are three ways to start.
Create An Inclusive Culture
Many companies have employee resource groups (ERG), including groups for the LGTBQ+ community. But aside from happy hours at the local gay bar, what pupose do these groups serve? Most companies I networked with already had very inclusive benefits that featured insurance plans for domestic partners and medical coverage for gender confirmation surgeries for trans employees. And while having a colorful presence at the local Pride parade seemed to be a worthwhile endeavor, we all felt like there was more we could do for our community. That’s why over the years we organized Queer Mornings meetups that covered the topics like support for queer colleagues located in countries where government support for LGBTQ+ folks is nil or lacking; fostering allyship programs; and board recruitment for queer nonprofit organizations.
It’s important to make sure your LGTBQ+ community has a space to discuss their needs via an ERG, but more thought is crucial to ensure representation of the queer community is evident throughout all programming (and not just during Pride). Make sure members of the LGBTQ+ community are represented as speakers and presenters, create company wide opportunities that focus on queer inclusion, and socialize the importance of having employees share their pronouns with each other, in meetings, internal directories, and email signatures.
The above are suggestions that are relatively easy to implement and not resource intensive. But there are ways we can make all members of our community feel included that involve more costly investments like bathrooms. Many companies encourage employees to bring their whole professional selves to work. But this isn’t always possible when a company’s office space follows the traditional binary layout of female and male bathrooms. And what I learned is that even if you want to change the layout, city codes may not easily allow for it. One easy fix – while you’re working through the bureaucracy of building permits – would be to provide menstrual products in all of your bathrooms and communicate clearly that all employees are able to use the bathroom that they feel most comfortable using.
Foster External Partnerships
Having your employees’ backs is one thing, but I encourage you to go even further and form external partnerships that will not only support, but also validate, your efforts. The Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices and benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees. Many companies proudly tout a Corporate Equality Index workplace score of 100. (Pro tip: if you are just getting started on your company’s LGBTQ+ equality journey, their standards are a great checklist.) Becoming a part of the HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act, which supports federal legislation that would provide the same basic protections to LGBTQ people as are provided to other protected groups under federal law, is another solid way to support your queer employees.
Develop an Inclusive Product
There’s no one way to make your product more inclusive and every company must find their own path. At Yelp we’ve adapted our product in several ways over the past few years. In 2017, we introduced an attribute that helps users identify businesses that offer gender-neutral restrooms to patrons. In 2018, we introduced the “Open to All” attribute allowing businesses to distinguish themselves as a safe and welcoming place to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion or disability. And this year, we are following suit with an LGBTQ-owned business attribute that will allow business owners to self-identify and distinguish themselves as an LGBTQ-owned business.
Making our product more inclusive hasn’t been some random decision. We’ve involved OUTburst, our LGBTQ+ employee resource group, in the planning process to make sure that when we roll out new features, they are sensitive to the needs of our community. This involvement provides a crucial feedback loop for the business.
The suggestions listed above aren’t an exhaustive list of how to make your company more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, but they are actionable ways to start. I am constantly learning and the needs of our community are also shifting along with the volatile political environment we live in. But what remains true is that I want to continue to help pave the way for LGBTQ+ equality and follow along the arc of the moral universe as it bends toward justice.
Uli Bilke is an internal community manager on the engagement, diversity and belonging team at Yelp