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Challenges Still Exist for LGBTQAI+ in the Workplace

business practices Jun 06, 2022
Various pride flags

Consider this situation: You are working for a large company that provides B2B services for a wide variety of industries. At your office, your boss insists on leading a Christian prayers session to start the day. All employees are required to participate, even though that might not be their faith or denomination. Any employee who does not participate faces extreme peer pressure and negative down-talk from the manager, all in the name of “decency in the workplace.”


Would you tolerate it?


How about this situation: You have been with your partner for over 20 years and are legally married. However, because of your boss’s opinions, you can’t share your spouse’s full name, nor can you ever bring them to any business social functions, such as the company picnic. Your supervisor has made it painfully clear that they strictly oppose the very nature of your type of relationship, perhaps because you are in an inter-racial relationship.


Would you tolerate it?

What if you were a member of the LGBTQIA+ community?


While these situations may sound intolerable, unfortunately, they both happened to a dear friend of mine. She had to pray with her manager every morning, yet she could never say that her wife’s full name was “Patricia” instead of “Pat.” Every day, she had to listen to anti-gay comments, all while never mentioning that she was a lesbian herself, lest she be fired from her position.


To make matters worse, this happened in Colorado, which is one of the first states that included sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws years before federal protections existed.


But as many of the LGBTQIA+ community know, there is a difference between the law and what actually happens in some workplaces.


Prevalence of Discrimination

On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is the equivalent of sex discrimination and is therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


The need for the ruling is evident when considering the statistics revolving around discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community:

  • Almost half (46%) of LGBTQIA workers in the United States are closeted in the workplace (3)
  • 46% of LGBTQIA workers have experienced unfair treatment at work. (8)
  • By comparison, 24% of black and 24% of Hispanic employees reported that they were discriminated against at work over the past year. (9)
  • Only 22 states plus DC have specific laws that address LGBTQIA+ rights in the workplace.
  • 22% of LGBTQIA Americans have not been paid equally or promoted at the same rate as their peers (1)
  • 30% of transgender respondents to the USTS reported being fired, denied a promotion, or not hired for a job because of their gender identity or expression. (2)
  • LGBTQIA people are often subjected to biased jokes: 53% have heard lesbian or gay jokes; 37% have heard bisexual jokes; 41% have heard transgender jokes. (3)
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, LGBTQIA+ people were 36% more likely to have been laid off or had their hours reduced than the general population. (4)


Leadership and Inclusion

Did you know that fewer than 0.3% of Fortune 500 board directors were openly LGBTQ in 2020 (5)? In fact, it was not until 2018 that Beth Ford became the first openly gay woman to run a Fortune 500 company when she took the lead at Land O’Lakes (6). By comparison, only 8.1% of all CEOs on the Fortune 500 2021 list are female (7).


Embracing Diversity

Encouraging a diverse workforce does more than benefit the few. By encouraging different viewpoints, life experiences, and backgrounds, a business can improve its overall company culture, become more relatable to its target markets, and encourage new thought patterns.


For the LGBTQIA+ community, many of them actively seek companies that are forward-thinking and embrace the varied backgrounds of all their employees. In fact, (25%) of LGBTQIA employees report staying in a job due to an LGBTQIA-inclusive work environment (3). Considering the high cost of turnover in recruiting, training, and onboarding new employees, the need to hang on to quality staff members directly impacts the company’s bottom line.


We Can All Win

When I think back to my friend and her wife, the real tragedy of the situation was that she loved her work. It was mentally stimulating, allowed her to contribute to the strategic initiatives, and the company even paid for her ongoing professional development. I just wonder how much more she would have been able to contribute to the company’s performance had she not been so concerned about dropping the wrong pronoun for her spouse around her boss.


No matter what the job or our background, anytime we can fully be ourselves at work, we all win. And that includes the company’s performance in every sense of the word.



  1. Discrimination in America: Experiences and views of LGBTQIA Americans. (2017). National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
  2. Jennifer C. Pizer, Brad Sears, Christy Mallory, and Nan D. Hunter, Evidence of Persistent and Pervasive Workplace Discrimination Against LGBT People: The Need for Federal Legislation Prohibiting Discrimination and Providing for Equal Employment Benefits, 45 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 715 (2012)
  3. Fidas, D., Cooper, L. (2019). A workplace divided: Understanding the climate for LGBTQIA workers nationwide. Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
  4. Corona Virus Troubles Have Hit LGBTQIA People Extra Hard:
  5. Fair representation might lead to better outcomes in times of crisis. (2020, April 7). Out Leadership.
  6. Kowitt, B. (2018, July 27). The latest female CEO in the Fortune 500 breaks a barrier. Fortune.
  7. Hinchliffe, Emma. The female CEOs on this year’s Fortune 500 just broke three all-time records.
  8. Sears, B., Mallory, C., Flores, A., Conron, K. LGBT People’s Experiences of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment. Sept 2021. The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.
  9. Lloyd, Camile. One in Four Black Workers Report Discrimination at Work. Jan 2021. Gallup.

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