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Laura McGee is the founder and CEO of Diversio and co-founder of #GoSponsorHer.

Pride Month has come to a close, and now the hard work begins. In the workplace.

While much attention has gone, rightly, in recent years to discrimination and harassment against women and racialized minorities, the challenge is no less acute for those who identify as LGBTQ.

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Too many LGBTQ employees report “covering” their true selves at work. This prevents the free flow of ideas critical for innovation, and results in unhappiness (and lower employee retention). To uncover specific barriers, Diversio surveyed 2,100 employees from 20 companies in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom and found evidence of distinct challenges that companies must identify and overcome.

Our study found:

  • LGBTQ employees were 3.7 times more likely than heterosexual, cis-gendered employees to say they have experienced mental, physical or sexual harassment at work. Put in context, women were only 1.3 times more likely to report harassment than the men in our sample.
  • LGBTQ employees were nearly twice as likely to feel that their opinion is not sought out and valued at work. Women and gender non-conforming individuals are especially impacted.
  • LGBTQ employees were 1.7 times more likely to say they’ve experienced bias in feedback and reviews. When asked for the biggest opportunity area at their company, many highlighted objective and constructive feedback.

When it comes to business performance, there is a clear connection between diversity and benefits such as innovation, productivity and revenue growth. LGBTQ inclusion is a big part in this equation. A recent PWC study found that more than 90 per cent of employers agree that openly supporting LGBTQ employees improves their access to talent and increases creativity. An estimated 20 per cent of millennials identify as LGBTQ, and prefer to buy products from companies that are LGBTQ friendly. These numbers cannot be ignored.

The opportunity to better include LGBTQ employees is clear. Yet leaders often feel overwhelmed and scared to take action. They worry that a certain policy’s wording might cause offence, that someone will be left out or execution will fall flat. The unfortunate result is leaders who know diversity and inclusion is imperative, but bury their heads in the sand.

There is no silver bullet, but leaders must start somewhere. We believe the time is ripe for a new approach to inclusion. One that relies on experimentation, iteration and employee engagement. One that recognizes mistakes will be made and that this is a learning process. One that sees diversity as an endpoint, and inclusion as a journey.

True LGBTQ inclusion will require companies to innovate, but experience shows it is well worth the investment. Take for example one of Canada’s fastest-growing technology firms, Lightspeed. According to Dax Dasilva, Lightspeed’s chief executive and a member of the LGBTQ community, inclusion is one of the most important drivers behind Lightspeed’s expansion to 50,000 customers and eight offices worldwide. It has allowed Lightspeed to innovate and compete with much larger competitors such as Amazon and Google.

For the leaders asking “where do I start?”, we gathered feedback from LGBTQ employees to propose five things you can do tomorrow:

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  • Make diversity and inclusion a top CEO priority and communicate this to employees at every level of the organization. Inclusion is a value that must be baked into an organization’s culture. It starts with the tone from the top.
  • Track how employees experience inclusion and set bold targets. For too long, diversity and inclusion strategy has been designed on assumptions and gut feelings. Organizations must shift to an evidence-based approach.
  • Engage LGBTQ colleagues and allies to source ideas on how to promote inclusion. From our experience at Diversio and Lightspeed, the best ideas come from the people closest to the problem. It’s a leader’s job to listen, learn and execute.
  • Experiment with tools and technology designed to promote inclusion, remove bias and eliminate harassment. Technology is not a cure-all, but it can be a great enabler. Tools such as Textio are being deployed to remove bias from job descriptions and identify bias in real time. Applications such as All Voices are being developed to tackle harassment.
  • Join a leading affinity group such as Pride at Work Canada. Joining these groups signals support and opens organizations to deep expertise and networks for the benefit of LGBTQ employees and allies.

Pride Month brought together people around the world to celebrate diversity and demand much more inclusion, in our communities and our country. Every company should make it a priority to make that a year-round goal.

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