This post is the second in a four-part series that honors Mineral’s month-long celebration of Pride and simultaneously educates and informs organizations to be stronger allies, advocates, and supporters of LGBTQ+ employees year-round. The series features several Mineralists as they discuss what Pride means to them through the lens of the Mineral mission to “elevate teams every day.”
Maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace is crucial for ethical responsibility and sustained business success. It’s not just about avoiding clashes between employee beliefs and values but creating an environment where everyone feels respected and supported.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released its annual performance report for 2022 and a draft of its Strategic Enforcement Plan for the next five years. For the first time in the agency’s nearly 60-year history, this plan includes a focus on LGBTQ+ individuals, aiming to prioritize those who “may be unaware of their rights under equal employment opportunity laws, may be reluctant or unable to exercise their legally protected rights, and/or have historically been underserved by federal employment discrimination protections.”
The EEOC’s planning is especially prescient, given how DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) has fallen on employers’ priority lists. Although the Mineral 2022 State of HR Report showed DEI was a top five priority for nearly half (48%) of employers before the COVID-19 pandemic, today that number has dropped to just 34%. Worse, only 16% of companies that prioritized DEI before the pandemic say that it remains a top five priority now.
With businesses focus on DEIB fading, workplace bias—particularly toward LGBTQ+ employees—has unfortunately been able to flourish. In the past year alone, the EEOC received 73,485 new discrimination charges, an increase of almost 20% compared to the previous year. And during fiscal year 2021, agency investigators recovered $7.5 million for individuals with LGBTQ+ sex discrimination charges from 1,629 reported cases.
With a reported 65% of the LGBTQ+ community concerned about how anti-LGBTQ legislation will affect their employment opportunities, understanding the EEOC’s plan is particularly important for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
Define workplace harassment clearly to prevent and address complaints effectively. Involving key individuals from different company areas to develop and update the policy will help gain organizational buy-in and strengthen your practices. Assure employees who report incidents that their safety is a priority and that any retaliation will not be tolerated.
This wasn’t the case for one New York state pizzeria, which the EEOC alleges did not respond appropriately to a transgender employee’s repeated harassment complaints. According to the EEOC, the employer stood by as customers and other employees harassed the employee, which led the commission to launch a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the employer.
To prevent a similar unfortunate incident in your workplace, according to Mineral, a solid workplace harassment prevention policy includes:
Having a harassment prevention policy alone isn’t enough to effectively protect your employees from discrimination and harassment. Training employees on your harassment prevention policy is essential. Seven states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, New York, and Washington) and the District of Columbia mandate harassment-prevention training. Still, it is a best practice regardless of legal requirements.
To take it a step further, offer additional learning opportunities, including LGBTQ+ sensitivity, allyship, and bystander intervention. These opportunities have the potential to foster empathy, reduce bias in the workplace, and create a safe space for open dialogue. If done well, they can be effective tools for preventing discrimination.
Should go without saying, right? We think so, too. However, what also often goes without saying is complaints themselves. The EEOC estimates that 75% of overall harassment complaints go unreported, generally due to fear of retaliation during the investigation process. Additionally, although race discrimination complaints are among the top three types reported, they also have the lowest success rate, in terms of rulings and/or relief in favor of the complainant. Employers can and should do their part to protect vulnerable employees by conducting a complete and well-documented investigation anytime there is a complaint about a violation of harassment or discrimination policies.
Among Mineral’s compliant-response recommendations:
Companies implementing new DEI initiatives often start from the top down, with buy-in and support from executive leaders. Instead, start by involving your employees in DEI initiatives. Encourage employees to have regular DEI discussions during 1:1 meetings with managers or wider teams. For example, there’s no reason to wait until Pride Month to discuss supporting LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace. At Mineral, we implemented a pilot program that facilitates intentional dialogue within small groups of employees. This program provides a psychologically safe environment for employees to talk about belonging, deepen their understanding of identity differences, and build community together.
BONUS: Establish employee resource groups (ERGs) to provide a sense of community and empower employees to engage with one another. This grassroots approach encourages DEI learning and momentum in businesses of all sizes. According to a recent report, 81% of LGBTQ+ employees believe having an ERG creates a comfortable work environment, and 80% report it improves their well-being at work. I know that Mineral’s Pride ERG has helped reach both of these ideals; the next post in this series takes a closer look at the lessons we learned along the way.
Go beyond meeting state and local legislation/mandates and celebrate your LGBTQ+ employees. Incorporate pronouns in regular communication to create an inclusive environment. Make DEI a normal part of your business operations, not just during Pride Month or other observances. Publicly express support for LGBTQ+ issues, demonstrating your commitment to equality.
SMBs have a significant role in creating a workplace that respects and supports LGBTQ+ employees. By implementing inclusive policies, educating staff, and promoting a culture of acceptance, you can ensure that every employee, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, feels valued and empowered.