Research increasingly shows that creating inclusive work environments is not just the right thing to do, it is core to better business performance. Russell Reynolds Associates’ second annual Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Pulse survey asked more than 1,800 executives worldwide about their perceptions of their organizations’ cultures and commitment to D&I as well as specific feedback on their leaders’ styles. We learned that when top leaders demonstrated inclusive behaviors, 90% of executives felt they had a positive working relationship with that leader and wanted to remain in their jobs.
This reality can present a challenge for CEOs when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ leaders. For one, membership status in the LGBTQ+ community is often invisible: a recent Human Rights Campaign survey found that 46% of people who consider themselves LGBTQ+ do not share this part of their identities at work. Even when it is visible, CEOs may not know exactly how to demonstrate the inclusive behaviors that affirm or encourage LGBTQ+ team members.
Based on data from more than 700 executives in the US and Canada, RRA compared the D&I Pulse responses specifically related to the perceptions and experiences in the workplace of the 8% (55 executives) who identified as LGBTQ+ to those of other executives.
The majority of LGBTQ+ executives believe their organizations want to be inclusive. Compared to 64% of their non-LGBTQ+ colleagues, nearly 80% report their organizations include sexual orientation and gender identity in their organizations’ D&I strategies. However, relatively few feel their organizations succeed at this goal. Just 38% believe their organizations effectively foster an inclusive culture, compared with 52% of non-LGBTQ+ executives who believe this to be true. Similar gaps exist when it comes to attracting and developing diverse talent. Perhaps not surprisingly, 45% report that diverse talent has left their organization due to a lack of inclusion or engagement.
For CEOs, getting this right is not just about optimizing leadership team dynamics, it is also about signaling their commitment to an inclusive culture throughout the organization.
What specific steps can CEOs take to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ employees?
Raise awareness: CEOs can visibly demonstrate their commitment to LGBTQ+ employees by personally supporting internal celebrations and educational events. They can also consider becoming vocal advocates for relevant public policy initiatives, such as transgender non-discrimination laws or parental leave equality while ensuring the company as whole clearly articulates its commitment to D&I for all people.
Mitigate hostility by managing risks: Top leaders should review hiring, development and retention policies to make sure they provide fair and equal treatment to LGBTQ+ employees. Some key questions to consider: Does the organization mandate diverse hiring panels and offer specific training related to interviewing LGBTQ+ candidates? Are anti-harassment and unconscious bias training regularly offered to all employees? Are medical benefits and parental leave policies unintentionally biased in ways that would present obstacles to LGBTQ+ employees?
Build & foster networks: The most effective CEOs do not just demonstrate their own commitment to diversity, they catalyze others to commit as well. Equipping members of the non-LGBTQ+ community to become allies through educational materials and structured programs is one avenue for such engagement; internal communications efforts from senior leadership to the entire organization can also help build broad-based support for LGBTQ+ employees.
Above all, it is important to remember that creating a work environment in which LGBTQ+ employees feel fully included may take time. Non-LGBTQ+ employees need education and encouragement to change negative behaviors, and LGBTQ+ employees may understandably need to see a track record of improvement before they change their perspective on the culture.
The good news for CEOs is that the first step is typically the hardest – and the more such steps become standard practice, the easier it will be for other CEOs to take them. With consistent and sincere commitment, CEOs stand to see change that not only transforms their businesses, but also transforms lives.