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The Rainbow Barrier: Challenges LGBTQ+ Employees Face & How Companies Can Support Them

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that employers may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. This landmark ruling has advanced the rights of LGBTQ+ employees, but many continue to face discrimination and prejudice at their workplaces. While the law now supports and recognizes LGBTQ+ employees' rights, companies need to ensure that their support goes beyond the minimum required. Actively fighting discrimination by training employees to recognize bias and creating plans to deal with reports of discrimination are just as important as written policies and other more formal means of fighting prejudice.

Before attempting to address discrimination, it's essential to understand the challenges and obstacles many LGBTQ+ employees face daily. Simply getting hired can be a struggle as openly gay job applicants in certain industries may be up to forty percent less likely to receive a job interview. In addition, transgender individuals have an unemployment rate three times higher than the national average.

This possible discrimination may lead to job applicants feeling pressured to refrain from disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity. And, if they do get hired, they may feel unable to share their LGBTQ+ status openly. This is reflected in the fact that fifty-three percent of LGBTQ+ employees hide their sexual orientation or gender identity from those at their workplace. Whether this comes from a fear of retribution or the threat of discrimination, this statistic is worrying. Employees should feel comfortable expressing who they are, and feeling as though they must hide a piece of their identity is both unhealthy and mentally taxing.

One thing is clear: companies must ensure they are adequately supporting their employees that identify as LGBTQ+. So, how can companies best ensure that LGBTQ+ employees are treated equally? A significant first step is creating a company policy to champion the equal treatment of those who identify as LGBTQ+. Announcing that all discrimination will be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated clearly communicates that any and all prejudice will not be tolerated.

Once clear expectations are expressed, a vital next step is introducing support programs for LGBTQ+ employees. Creating an easy way for LGBTQ+ employees to connect with others who identify as LGBTQ+ can allow them to discuss their experiences and share strategies for success. Mentoring programs can be especially useful, as they enable successful LGBTQ+ businesspeople to pass on vital tips on how to succeed while connecting them with those who need it most.

While creating programs that specifically support LGBTQ+ employees' rights is essential, another way that businesses can work toward equality is by focusing on creating gender-neutral policies. For example, giving parental leave to all employees, instead of just maternity leave, allows non-traditional families the same freedom to have and raise children that traditional families are granted automatically.

Gendered language in policies can also result in LGBTQ+ employees from being unintentionally left out of benefits, so reviewing and editing your company's policies to be gender-neutral will ensure that all employees are treated equally. Similarly, creating gender-neutral spaces, such as unisex restrooms, can signal acceptance to LGBTQ+ employees and remove any stress that may result from feeling out of place.

Great strides have been taken toward equality for those who identify as LGBTQ+. While progress is still needed, your company can take steps in right direction by enacting the recommendations above and publicly demonstrating support for LGBTQ+ rights.

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