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How employers can leverage signals of hope to retain LGBTQ+ professionals

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & advisory services / Thomson Reuters Institute

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & advisory services / Thomson Reuters Institute

In celebration of June being Pride Month, we focus on the challenges that many LGBTQ+ professionals feel in the workplace and how corporate executives, team leaders, and managers can create a firmwide culture to promote inclusiveness and belonging

LGBTQ+ professionals are experiencing a level of exhaustion that is as deep as it ever has been in the modern era, according to according to Gillian Power, Senior Advisor at Unbiased Consulting, LLC and co-chair of the recent Thomson Reuters Institute Outlaws conference.

Primary reasons for the deep levels of burn-out among LGBTQ+ professionals are driven by:

      • prolonged mental health struggles resulting from the multi-layered stress of staying productive at work amid health concerns for themselves and their families;
      • care-giving challenges related to parents and children;
      • spikes in anti-LGBTQ+ hate that other underrepresented communities have experienced; and
      • the plethora of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation, and the loss or threat of loss of LGBTQ+ equality and equal rights.

The combination of all of these factors leave the LGBTQ+ community burnt out and wondering how it can garner the strength to mobilize its activist energy to fight against the powerful forces that are exploiting political cynicism to falsely position the LGBTQ+ community as an enemy, says Power.

Bright spots among growing concerns

However, there is a silver lining within the perceptions of the backwards progress among society in the workplace. The maturity of LGBTQ+ professionals and their understanding of their economic value to their employers as an underrepresented professional has allowed them to assert their value within their organization, Power contends.

This also is indicative of the signals coming from the larger movement for a more just workplace. These signals include LGBTQ+ individuals asserting their values and pushing back on common habits of some employers to tout their hollow LGBTQ+-friendly credentials, along with the growing commitment to sustainability and companies’ environmental, social and governance agenda.

Another ray of hope that Power underscores is the values-based decisions that LGBTQ+-advocacy or Pride groups in specific cities have made based on their listening to marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community. For example, a Pride group on the West Coast declined a six-figure sponsorship deal because the company wanted naming rights to the Pride Parade. The Pride group turned down the sponsorship because it was concerned that the company was going to misrepresent what the group stood for.

Another Pride group on the East Coast told members of the LGBTQ+ community that they could not march in the annual parade in their police uniform because of the lack of fair treatment of the community’s people of color.

Further, positive momentum for the LGBTQ+ community exists in regions where there has been a loss of equal rights for LGBTQ+ communities. “A number of organizations are finally doing corporate events and panels about increasing visibility of LGBTQ+ employees and the challenges they face as a way to signal how the origins of Pride started as a protest by Black and Latina transgender women in New York City against police harassment,” says Power, who is based in the Midwest.

At the same time, legal and accounting employers still have a long way to go. In particular, there is an urgent need for change within the accounting profession because one-in-five LGBTQ+ accountants are leaving the profession.

Build a culture of trust, belonging & psychological safety

From C-level corporate leaders to first-line managers, those in positions of power need consistently to act and model behaviors that communicate respect. They also need to show that all voices are valued in group settings and in one-on-one conversations in order to build a culture of trust and belonging. This is also necessary to create psychological safety — defined as trust and cohesion at the group or the team level along with the belief that you can show up to work and within your team as yourself — within each team and at each corporate level.

The good news is that that the behaviors to boost trust, strengthen a sense of belonging, and increase psychological safety are the same. An added bonus is that these behaviors also address the key drivers — mainly a lack of appreciation and career progression — that accounting and legal professionals give when deciding to leave their employers.

To better model these behaviors in group settings, team leaders and managers need to:

      • repeatedly invite others to offer their perspective on agenda topics;
      • reiterate gratitude for individuals with the courage to speak up, especially when their view is not popular;
      • amplify the conclusions of team members who are introverted, the most junior members, and from under-represented backgrounds; and
      • remind your team members at the beginning of every meeting to keep you accountable when you interrupt others or are not seeing someone trying to speak up or who is cut off by another person.

Team leaders and managers also need to reinforce value and respect in order to build up psychological safety and trust in one-on-one discussions with team members. To do this, leaders and managers should:

      • say “thank you” on a recurring basis to those who demonstrate appreciation for others on the team;
      • ask team members often, “How are you really doing?”; and
      • frequently use the question, “What can I do to ensure you have a rewarding career here?” to address the perceived lack of career progression.

This kind of intentionality on the part of leaders is required to make LGBTQ+ employees and others feel they belong, their voices are valued and respected, and they feel safe to share their opinion about important work projects without penalty.

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