Businesses leading the way to LGBT inclusion

From policies to benefits, companies are investing in the LGBT workforce

Woman in front of rainbow flag speaking to group Corporate America is pushing back in the boardroom and the courtroom in support of its LGBT workforce, shareholders and customers. Businesses across all industries are leading the way in welcoming LGBT individuals into their workforce and making them feel included and accepted.

Companies are eagerly striving to earn a perfect score on the “Corporate Equality Index” issued each year by the Human Rights Campaign. (Grant Thornton has earned a 100% rating the last two years in a row.) In addition to a record number of companies earning a perfect rating, 93% of rated companies have adopted sexual orientation equal employment policies and 92% have gender identity equal employment policies. Nearly three-fourths of rated companies now offer transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage and 98% offer same-sex domestic partner or spousal benefits.

An out-of-the-box anti-discrimination policy for gays and lesbians simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Companies now tout their paid time off and coverage for transgender surgeries, creation of employee resource groups for LGBT workers, same-sex partner health benefits and outreach to LGBT suppliers. In fact, according to Out and Equal, 94% of Fortune 500 companies have formal policies in place banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and three-fourths include gender identity and gender expression in their anti-bias policies.

Erica O’Malley, Partner, Organizational Strategy, stressed that first, and foremost, organizations must clearly communicate they have a no tolerance policy when it comes to LGBT discrimination or harassment. “That means the LGBT individual must speak up, the organization needs to have policies in place and it needs to enforce those policies,” O’Malley said.

Making progress with LGBT inclusive policiesBusinesses are taking the LGBT inclusion lead Applying a consistent approach to benefits offered employees is important to demonstrating the organization’s commitment to equality. For example, Grant Thornton makes available insurance and paid leaves to both domestic partners and same-sex spouses as well as transgender medical benefits.

One organization that is moving forward in its mission to create an LGBT-inclusive culture for its 16,000-employee workforce is the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA). After discovering that 60% of its gay millennial employees wanted to start a family, the organization’s benefits team added reciprocal IVF benefits that could better support female couples wishing to have a child.

A number of other companies across all industries are following the lead in rethinking their approach to LGBT diversity and inclusion. MassMutual, for example, launched its “Vow to Protect” campaign in support of LGBT families and marriage equality by debuting a series of videos. Aetna announced last year that its health insurance benefits cover gender reassignment therapies. Chevron’s commitment to equality and inclusion extends beyond its own workforce to LGBT businesses that are part of its Supplier Diversity program.

Creating these kinds of inclusive benefits and programs an important element of both attracting and retaining top LGBT talent. A formal suggestion process that includes policy recommendations and a cost and impact analysis can help surface employee needs and take action in meaningful ways. However, organizations need to carefully consider how policies might define gender. For example, transgender employees may need a health insurance policy that doesn’t limit coverage based on gender.

While new benefits are on the horizon which include transgender medical benefits, HIV benefits and family planning assistance tailored to LGBT workers, many employers will need more education in this area and will need to leverage vendors experienced in providing specialized health care to LGBT employees.

However, much progress is being made and, while employees and consumers are taking note, so is the finance world. Two funds were recently launched seeking to invest in companies addressing equality rights in the workplace. UBS Group AG launched the Insight Shares LGBT Employment Equality ETF PRID. As reported by Bloomberg, the fund tracks the UBS LGBT Employment Equality Index, which follows "the price movements of U.S. companies” that provide LGBT equality through their company and employment policies as measured by their score in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index. A second fund, the Workplace Equality Portfolio EQLT follows Workplace Equality Index, a stock index including leading equality-minded U.S. publicly traded companies that support LGBT equality in the workplace.

Leveraging benefits of business resource groups In addition to taking a close look at its benefits and policies, organizations are also rethinking their business resource groups (BRGs), a staple in their efforts to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace. These groups traditionally offer employees a safe environment in which to discuss and navigate issues they may not otherwise feel comfortable exploring in general work spaces.
Debra Hahn“Companies need to be visible in demonstrating their values. Just saying you’re supportive isn’t enough. This has to be a continuous, year-round activity.”

Debra Hahn, Managing Director, Independence and Ethical Standards; Equality GT Executive Sponsor

But some organizations are re-imagining the BRG around the concept of intersectionality whereby senior leaders are integrated into critical roles in the resource groups, providing insight and direction on business strategy, serving as mentors and coaches, being receptive to anonymous feedback and sharing their own personal journey.

While adding intersectionality into the mix can add value for both employer and employee, it requires a cross-functional approach that allows employees to problem solve through acknowledgement of multiple identities they hold. Based on identities employees select through surveys or other tools, a BRG can serve to explore other identities or may partner with another BRG to explore them together. This allows for both a more dynamic interaction and more realistic one as employees have more than one identity.

This re-defined BRG structure could also benefit employers by using the groups to pose challenges to solve. For example, a BRG for newly-hired LGBT employees might teach the organization about how to recruit and retain new employees while providing them with mentoring opportunities.

“BRGs are a huge connection point for LGBT employees and allies,” said Brenna Coogle, Director, Operations and a National Equality GT Leader. “Being LGBT is not something that is necessarily outwardly visible so belonging to a BRG is a way to connect to others that are like you.”

Participation in business resource groups are valuable to both LGBT and non-LGBT employees. Nick Moore, Senior Manager, Audit Methodology and Standards and a National Equality GT Leader, noted that non-LGBT employees “develop stronger, deeper relationships with their LGBT counterparts. It helps non-LGBT employees who may be struggling with coming to terms with or knowing how best to support LGBT friends and family. The BRG provides them a valuable resource.”

By welcoming both LGBT and non-LGBT employees, business resource groups also serve to provide necessary awareness training such as helping employees remove unconscious bias from presentations or proposals. Dawn Hare, Senior Associate, Training Services and National Equality GT Leader, explained that Grant Thornton’s “Safe Space” program also provides training for allies to be available to LGBT employees who may not feel comfortable speaking with leadership or HR.

Making a long-term commitment Regardless of which direction organizations decide to take in creating their LGBT-inclusive culture, success will require a long-term commitment. “Companies need to be visible in demonstrating their values,” suggested Debra Hahn, Grant Thornton Managing Director, Independence and Ethical Standards and an Equality GT Executive Sponsor. “Just saying you’re supportive isn’t really enough. This has to be a continuous, year-round activity, not just a one-time effort in support of Pride Month because success doesn’t happen overnight”.

Like all elements of organizational culture, fostering an LGBT-friendly culture requires commitment from senior leadership. Tone at the top is a critical element in demonstrating that the organization values and prioritizes LGBT equality. “You really have to have active personal involvement from senior leaders,” Hahn explained. “If you don’t have tone at the top, it becomes difficult to expect others in the firm to believe LGBT inclusion is important.”

Alvin Go, Experienced Manager, Audit and an Equality GT Leader, related how senior leadership showed its support for the Grant Thornton LGBT workforce at important times. “Following the Orlando, FL shooting in a gay bar, CEO Mike McGuire and a leading partner spoke on a call that had been quickly scheduled by Equality GT. We appreciated hearing their concerned voices. Another time, on a celebratory day, Mike traveled to North Carolina and made his way through the crowds to be at the Charlotte Pride Parade.”

Eddie Adkins, Partner, National Tax Standards Group and an Equality GT Executive Sponsor, agreed that senior leadership’s role in supporting the LGBT workforce is critical. He explained that one way that Grant Thornton’s leadership demonstrates its support is through participation in a nationwide monthly all-hands call. “A member of our senior leadership team is interviewed on each call, and during the interview, discusses his or her support for LGBT inclusion. This is a perfect example of how senior leaders drive the LGBT inclusion agenda in a very visible way.”

Yet, sometimes it is the small, everyday gestures that make the most difference. Adkins acknowledged that companies can ensure LGBT employees feel accepted and treated as equal to other employees in both big and small ways. “For example, when someone in a leadership position asks an LGBT employee how his or her spouse is doing, and is able to call the spouse by name, it demonstrates that the leader is fully accepting of the employee and family,” Adkins said. “This simple but impactful way of showing acceptance means a great deal to LGBT employees, who still in this day and age do not necessarily take acceptance for granted.”

Jamie Fowler, National Managing Partner of Tax and an Equality GT Senior Leadership Team Advocate, concurred that while great strides have been made toward inclusiveness, “our world is still a place where we need to outwardly and openly lead and promote diversity of thought and experiences.”

“Progress doesn’t automatically move forward at a steady pace,” Fowler stressed. “People can be led forward, but they can also be led, or influenced backwards. That’s why it is so important to be consistent as an organization, to be a firm that continually presses forward and doesn’t tolerate backwards movement. At the same time, we all need to provide the grace to ourselves and to each other for learning, for evolution of thinking as we lead ourselves and others toward a high-growth, forward-looking, diverse culture.”