LGBTQ+ workers want more than just Pride flags in June

Recognition helps. Benefits may help more.

Photo by Phillip Pessar.

Every year, more and more companies seem to recognize Pride Month. But a recent analysis shows that LGBTQ+ workers expect more than this once-a-year acknowledgment from their employers. In fact, some employees actually criticize such behavior as mere pinkwashing.

So, what do LGBTQ+ workers want? In 2023, the jobs website Indeed conducted a survey of LGBTQ+ full-time workers from across the U.S., and the results provide a clear picture of their needs.

As a lesbian transgender woman and a queer studies scholar, I wasn’t surprised by what Indeed found. Even so, non-LGBTQ+ workers – particularly managers – can learn a lot from this survey. It may help them realize what LGBTQ+ workers already know: Employers must do better if they want to retain talent.

Workers are troubled by three big issues, the survey found: the impact of new anti-LGBTQ+ laws, workplace discrimination, and benefits packages that don’t meet their needs.

Workers say anti-LGBTQ+ laws derail careers

With a historic rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, 2023 proved to be a particularly challenging year for LGBTQ+ rights – especially transgender rights. In its survey, Indeed found that nearly two-thirds of respondents were concerned about how anti-LGBTQ+ laws could hurt their work opportunities.

In fact, more than three-quarters of respondents said they would hesitate to apply for a new job in a state with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. More than half said they would never apply for a position in such a state.

With anti-LGBTQ+ bills now becoming law across the country, their impact on states’ economies is still uncertain. However, we’ve long known that discrimination is bad for business. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recently found that systemic racial and gender wage gaps – which distort labor markets, reduce productivity and harm job satisfaction – have cost the U.S. economy nearly US$71 trillion since 1990.

Whatever effects this rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation will have, history suggests it won’t be good.

LGBTQ+ people face workplace discrimination

Along with anti-LGBTQ+ laws, discrimination continues to harm LGBTQ+ workers. Sixty percent of respondents reported that they lost a promotion because of anti-LGBTQ bias, while a similar number said they were targeted with a performance improvement plan because of their identity. More than half said that they’re paid less than their similarly qualified cisgender and straight colleagues.

The reality is that LGBTQ+ people do encounter workplace discrimination. For instance, transgender people face bias at work at alarming rates. And while all LGBTQ+ workers are statistically likely to encounter a wage gap, transgender people – especially women and people of color – face even wider disparities.

Culturally responsive benefits are crucial

More than half of survey respondents said that it was important for employers to offer LGBTQ-specific benefits such as family planning support and comprehensive transition-related health care coverage. However, less than one-quarter said their own employer did so. In terms of transgender-specific benefits, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they worked for a company that didn’t offer any.

When asked to share what benefits they looked for in a job posting, respondents cited health care services with LGBTQ+ friendly medical providers and fertility assistance, among others. Transgender respondents said they looked for two specific benefits: health insurance plans with coverage for gender-affirming surgical treatments, and financial assistance for gender-affirming treatments that insurers often deem “cosmetic.”

In this survey, LGBTQ+ workers were quick to share what benefits appealed most to them. But the fact remains that many employers don’t offer such benefits. In fact, the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index notes that more than one-third of Fortune 500 companies still don’t offer trans-inclusive benefits. They also report that only about 72% of Fortune 500 companies require LGBTQ+ competency training.

However, LGBTQ+ employees increasingly expect more of their employers, as organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management have observed. And on the heels of the “great resignation,” employers would be wise to take notice. At this fraught moment for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S., workers aren’t likely to be content with pinkwashed companies that won’t offer real support.

This article was originally published by our partners at The Conversation on January 9, 2024.

Dorian Rhea Debussy is a lecturer of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at The Ohio State University.