Making the Business Case for LGBTQ2+ Inclusion

Jade Pichette
Manager of Programs, Pride at Work Canada

Each year we see increasing numbers of businesses arriving at Pride with their logos emblazoned with rainbows, but what about the other 364 days a year? There is a shift in how employers are engaging members of gender, romantic and sexual minorities outside of Pride, and the benefit to having an inclusive space for LGBTQ2+ employees. Some employers have leapt into working with the community, usually due to dedicated openly LGBTQ2+1 employees, while others have been a bit more hesitant. It is time for organizations to realize that LGBTQ2+ inclusion is not just the right thing to do, but that it is what companies need to do in order to thrive in the competitive marketplace.

The Law

Canada has been on the forefront of LGBTQ2+ rights on an international stage. Though many countries continue to criminalize the community, Canada was one of the first to cover sexual orientation as a protected ground, and since 2017 has also protected gender identity and expression. This is fundamentally different from many countries, even parts of the United States where you can still be fired for being LGBTQ2+ without legal recourse. In contrast, employers in Canada must take proactive measures in order to support employees, otherwise they risk a discrimination case against them or embarrassing press that can lead to boycotts and direct impacts on their market share.

Over the last decade, provincial and territorial human rights commissions have become all too familiar with cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Some examples include not allowing trans employees to use the bathroom of their choice, same-gender couples being told their relationships are unprofessional in the workplace while straight couples experience none of the same concerns, and parental leave policies that have not caught up to same-sex marriage laws. Increasingly, these complaints by LGBTQ2+ employees are also being supported by allies coming forward to validate these experiences.

Legal cases can be costly for employers through legal fees and payment of damages, not to mention the impact of reacting to concerns instead of planning inclusion and diversity programs in advance to include LGBTQ2+ people. In public cases, this has also resulted in some very bad publicity for employers, which can make it more difficult to attract and retain talent.

Discuss LGBTQ2+ inclusion

Talent and teamwork

Positive beliefs about the importance of LGBTQ2+ inclusion have been increasing throughout all age groups, but especially among younger generations — including millennials and Generation Z — who are taking up larger parts of the workforce. One study found that only two thirds of Gen Z identify as exclusively heterosexual with many choosing to reject labels around sexuality and gender. With that in mind, to recruit the best talent, employers need to be more inclusive in their policies, workplace culture and advertising. Especially since not only are LGBTQ2+ people more likely to work for companies that are supportive, but so are allies, 72% of whom said they are more likely to accept a job at an inclusive employer.

Inclusivity and belonging in the workplace has a major impact on how employees work with their colleagues and their dedication to their employer. The Centre for Talent Innovation found that globally, 34% of LGBT people who tried to pass for straight and cis2 and 39% of LGBT people who tried to downplay their sexual orientation or gender would avoid or engage less with colleagues. It has a major impact on team dynamics if employees are not able to be openly who they are and feel welcomed.

The positive impact of diverse teams has been well studied. Diverse teams have been shown to be able to solve problems faster, make better decisions 87% of the time, and have better results 60% of the time. This is increasingly true when there are many aspects of diversity at play. The LGBTQ2+ community is a rich tapestry of diverse experiences and views that we bring to the table. Anyone who has visited Pride or a queer group knows that we come together from many different backgrounds and perspectives. By nature, we are a creative community, and that type of diversity of thought is exactly what is needed to fuel innovation.

It has been shown that having an LGBT-inclusive workplace in Canada results in a 22% increase in team productivity. Plus, we know that there is a direct correlation between LGBTQ2+ inclusion and being able to attract the best talent. It’s clear that workplaces that don’t look to provide space for LGBTQ2+ inclusion will be left behind in the increasingly competitive marketplace.

Financial impact

We can’t talk about a business case for LGBTQ2+ inclusion without talking about the financial impact. Contrary to some people’s opinion, being LGBTQ2+ inclusive is the fiscally-responsible choice to make. This is due to employee retention and growing markets.

Recruitment and training are expensive endeavours for most organizations. As the nature of the workplace changes, employee turnover is growing. One aspect of whether employees stay in a position is due to their experience of belonging. Employees who feel a sense of belonging in their workplace will engage with their colleagues more, have better experiences of mental wellness and are less likely to consider leaving for another organization. In fact, a 2015 study showed that Canadian LGBTQ2+ employees who are comfortably out at work results in a 17% increase in retention.

Being LGBTQ2+ inclusive is the fiscally-responsible choice to make. This is due to employee retention and growing markets.

The LGBTQ2+ economy is one that is growing rapidly in Canada across many different industries. Tourism was one of the first to see growth, with same-gender couples visiting from all over the world so that they could become married or just visit an affirming place. However, this growth has spread across industries as more companies are run by openly LGBTQ2+ people. The Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce suggested the annual buying power of LGBTQ-owned businesses was $90 billion CAD. And, as companies increasingly employ supplier diversity policies and choose not to work with companies that do not have inclusive policies, LGBTQ2+ owned companies will have plenty of opportunities to grow.

The LGBTQ2+ market continues to expand in Canada and worldwide. Protean Strategies suggested the estimated size of the LGBT market in Canada is between $90 to $100 billion or 7.2% of Canada’s GDP and we could see that number continue to grow. This is a huge market to tap into that will continue to grow as Gen Z and millennials take an ever-greater proportion of the market share (as well as business ownership) and increasingly prioritize LGBTQ2+ inclusive companies as part of their buying practices.

The right thing to do

LGBTQ2+ inclusion in the workplace is fundamentally the right thing to do. To be in line with Canadian law, recruit the best talent, have the most effective teams and access growing markets, employers need to make their workplaces inclusive spaces where LGBTQ2+ people can see themselves reflected and experience a sense of belonging. While making the business case can sway those on the fence about including LGBTQ2+ people, ultimately, as HR professionals we know that providing a space for all of our employees to thrive is what we strive for. As the march for equality continues on, it is useful to use multiple strategies to achieve a world in which LGBTQ2+ people are not just tolerated, but celebrated for our diversity and where we can experience acceptance, and ultimately, belonging.

1 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirit, and the + is used to include many other identities including Intersex, Pansexual, Asexual, Genderqueer, Non-binary, Agender and more.

2 Cis or cisgender are people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Jade Pichette, Manager of Programs, Pride at Work Canada

Jade Pichette

Manager of Programs, Pride at Work Canada

Jade Pichette is the Manager of Programs at Pride at Work Canada. They are a diversity and inclusion educator with a background in social service provision. As Pride at Work Canada’s Manager of Programs, Jade is committed to implementing engaging programs for our partners that envision a world where gender and sexual diversity are included and celebrated. Previous to Pride at Work Canada they have held positions at the Canadian Lesbian + Gay Archives, Kind Space, and as an independent diversity and inclusion consultant.

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