This Pride month, LGBTQIA+ workers are weathering a harsh political climate. In an attempt to further marginalize and erase this community, several states have passed legislation that bars transgender people from playing sports, using the restroom, and receiving “gender affirming” healthcare. Following Florida’s lead, more than a dozen states have proposed so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bills, and the recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade has raised concerns about the future of same-sex marriage.

Today, many workers expect employers to proactively speak out against anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, calling for a new era of companies to match what they publicly say to what they privately donate. But corporations jumping into these murky political waters is fraught with risk.

Watching the ongoing drama of Ron DeSantis vs. Bob Chapek, there are some lessons to be learned. Disney is facing backlash from both sides of the aisle after CEO Bob Chapek delayed in publicly condemning Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill until after employees protested and it had already been passed by state legislators. Following the employee outrage, Disney belatedly announced it would donate $5 million to LGBTQIA+ organizations including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) but the HRC rejected the funds. However, in retaliation of Chapek’s public condemnation of the bill, DeSantis revoked Disney’s self-governing status in Florida. While this drama isn’t over yet, one clear takeaway is that corporations can’t idly stand by as the social and political climate becomes more antagonistic to this community. But how do chief executives wade into political territory without drowning?

To start, leaders can look inwardly and improve any wanting working conditions. A 2021 study from UCLA found that 46% of LGBTQIA+ workers have experienced unfair treatment at work at some point in their lives, including being fired, harassed, or passed for a job. And a recent Glassdoor survey found that LGBTQIA+ employees rate their workplace 6% worse than non-LGBTQIA+ workers.

This Pride month, corporations can save the logo rainbow-washing and take some clear measurable steps that can make a real impact to their LGBTQIA+ staff feeling supported, safe, and affirmed.

Adjust Benefits Plans in Preparation for Anti-LGBTQ Legislation

Employers must acknowledge the challenges facing LGBTQIA+ workers today beyond the office, argues Jacob Little, Glassdoor’s Head of People Experience and Diversity & Inclusion.

"With the many anti-LGBTQ bills advancing through state legislatures, employees may not always feel safe in public, but employers must ensure their LGBTQ employees are safe, valued, and affirmed at work,” says Little.

He adds that companies should ensure that their benefits programs fully protect LGBTQIA+ employees.

"As more anti-transgender bills pass state legislatures, access to gender-affirming medical care will become a core part of a trans-inclusive benefits plan,” predicts Little. “Employers should take proactive steps to draft policies for transgender employees who seek such care, and prepare to support those employees with travel and lodging in states where such care is provided. In addition, employers should proactively ensure that they have solid policies in place, such as the inclusion of domestic partners in all benefits plans.”

Only Work With Value-Aligned Partners

Alyah Baker, Co-Founder of retail brand Show & Tell, says establishing your organization’s values and vertically integrating them into every business level is crucial. Baker says she chooses to work with suppliers, manufacturers, and vendors that align with her mission to serve the Black, brown, and LGBTQIA+ communities. She also keeps these values in mind when hiring.

“It is really important to me to be vocal with people about my values in the hiring process and make sure that they are aligned,” she explains. “Because when people are coming into our store or are meeting us in markets, our employees are an extension of our brand.”

Company policies such as encouraging respectful pronoun usage and allowing for flexible scheduling are also meant to create a supportive environment for her LGBTQIA+ employees, says Baker.

“I don’t expect employees to come in as a cog in the machine,” she explains. “I expect them to come in as full human beings.”

Survey and Fund LGBTQIA+ Workers

In order to serve the needs of any disenfranchised group, employers need to prioritize listening, says Lynne Smith, SVP of Global Human Resources for Robert Half.

Smith says this “listening strategy” should begin with a thorough onboarding conversation and should be followed with periodic employee surveying. By routinely asking employees about their experiences, concerns, and work relationships, HR professionals can address potential challenges facing LGBTQIA+ workers.

“The only way you’ll know if your values are consistently part of the employee experience is by asking your employees,” says Smith, noting that Robert Half surveys employees bi-annually. “And if you're gonna ask people for their feedback, you need to act on it.”

Smith says that creating employee resource groups for LGBTQIA+ employees can offer LGBTQIA+ workers an opportunity to create community, build leadership skills, and voice concerns. Giving such employee resource groups financial support for events, speakers, and educational opportunities is one way leaders can show they prioritize LGBTQIA+ employees, she adds.