Diversity – and the struggle to successfully incorporate it into company culture – has been at the forefront of the corporate world. Erin Uritus is well aware of the buzz around inclusion; as CEO of LGBTQ workplace advocacy non-profit Out & Equal, she consults with organizations on their inclusive policy and practices. The good news? Uritus says organizations are “doubling down” on their commitment to LGBTQ friendly workplaces. Yet she acknowledges that the LGBTQ community still confronts unique challenges in employment. Uritus shares what she looks for when helping companies become more inclusive, the circumstances LGBTQ workers face today, and what organizations can do to ensure they’re supporting all of their employees.
Glassdoor: What is the current state of the LGBTQ workforce in the United States?
Erin Uritus: It’s complicated. We’re not living in easy times. There’s 28 states where there’s no workplace protections for employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But on the other hand, companies who’ve been investing in diversity and inclusion work over the last two decades, they’re not going anywhere, they’re doubling down, they’re expanding their work, they’re reinvesting and supporting because they know that it’s good for business. We’re also in a competitive job market right now, so everybody knows and they wanna keep good employees.
I believe about 20% of millennials, identify under our umbrella, so LGBTQ. That’s going to be 75% of the workforce by 2025, so companies are really interested, urgently interested I would say at this point, in making sure that they understand and support our community.
[Related: Diversity & Inclusion Checklist]
Glassdoor: Part of the work Out & Equal does is consult with companies on their various diversity and inclusion strategies. What criteria do you looking for when you’re evaluating the inclusivity of different companies?
Erin Uritus: Something that I think really distinguishes Out & Equal is that we’re not evaluating companies, we meet everybody where they’re at and then help push them forward. We connect with their goals and benchmarks around inclusion, and then work to help them meet those goals and push them forward.
That said, what we’ve found most companies are looking for are clearly inclusive policies and benefits, that goes without saying. Also, do they support their employees through ERGs (employee resource groups)? Because ERGs, of course, are so beneficial from a variety of fronts.
Middle managers are a really tough nut to crack. The middle managers tend to be a less diverse group, and probably the ones that have the most influence in terms of people’s day-to-day work situations.
How does diversity work as a standalone integrate with all of the other efforts that the company has going on around culture? How are executives coming out at very high levels and paving the way for others and supporting them in executive LGBTQ champion roles? The most sophisticated version of that is do companies have LGBTQ folks on their board of directors? I think that’s really the cutting edge of where leadership is at now.
Glassdoor: How can companies go beyond simply just calling themselves inclusive and make sure they’re actually providing a supportive environment?
Erin Uritus: Embrace this idea of intersectionality, and that everybody is representing some kind of difference. Which is providing these opportunities for people to be authentically themselves, whoever they are. This is not complicated, it’s not rocket science. To me this is really about helping employees connect over their common humanity. If people are able to be authentic and we have workplaces of belonging, that’s where it starts.
If a company has an ally program, they want to actually give people concrete ideas about how to be good allies, there are a million worksheets, checkboxes, guides, helpful things. There’s actually really great tools out there, within ally programs, that actually help give people the language to engage in authentic conversation, to meet people at a place where or try to find conversations where people are not defensive, but they can ask kind of quote-unquote “stupid questions.” I think a lot of companies that have successful ally programs are actually getting back to the nitty-gritty level with really helpful tools and techniques to help people show up as allies.
Glassdoor: Workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity vary in different areas of the United States. How can companies operating in areas with various levels of legal protections ensure job security for all of their employees?
Erin Uritus: At a fundamental level, we’re seeing companies connect with the basic value of consistency for all of their employees. If they don’t keep consistent across their workforce with their values, then it’s not good for them. I think that keeping domestic partnership is important, that when employees are up for an opportunity to get a good job assignment in a different state, if they’re out and gay and it happens to be one of those 28 states where they’re not protected, there should be a no penalty opt-out for those assignments, so that they can not lose a job opportunity or upward mobility.