Employers today have a responsibility to enact truly inclusive workforce policies to protect their trans, non-binary and gender-expansive employees — increasing psychological safety and leading to positive long-term impacts. When organizations better understand the importance of building a supportive workplace, it leads to a vast number of holistic organizational benefits, such as better retention, more enthusiastic employees and greater engagement at work.
While it’s undeniable that global awareness of trans issues has increased over the past few years, there is still much work to do in building safer workspaces for gender-expansive employees, reports a study by Empress, The Coven’s research and insights studio, and Mossier, an organization that works with Queer leaders and allies on inclusive workplace issues.
According to the research, 75% of employees feel their workplace is welcoming for LGBTQ+ workers. Yet 51% of LGBTQ+ employees in unsupportive organizations are considering changing roles because their employer has not addressed issues facing their community, while 29% of LGBTQ+ workers say the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has impacted their ability to perform at work.
The study polled more than 2,000 workers nationwide, including 920 LGBTQ+ employees and 210 gender-expansive employees, asking them about their experiences in the workplace.
Our Current Reality
Across the United States this year, we’ve witnessed a disturbing rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. In fact, more anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in state houses this year alone than in each of the previous five years. This record total of 520 bills provides a window into the bleak reality for many gender-expansive employees and the fight for visibility, access and equity.
For many of us, work is stressful enough — but for trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive employees, spending 40 hours or more a week in a psychologically unsafe environment adds another dangerous layer of stress.
Working in a state of psychological danger leads to long-term mental health consequences and poor job performance.
For organizations, developing a supportive workspace isn’t just “the right thing to do”— it also has a direct impact on a company’s recruitment, retention and performance. Investing in the psychological safety of trans and non-binary employees is an equal investment in a company’s long-term success.
When an organization does support the LGBTQ+ community — openly and transparently — employees serve as billboards and advocates. In our study, 94% of the workers surveyed in supportive companies would recommend their company to LGBTQ+ job seekers, and 89% say their employer’s efforts to support the LGBTQ+ community made them want to continue working for them.
So, what are some meaningful ways employers can support LGBTQ+ and gender-expansive workers? Throughout our research, we discovered three core action categories:
- Safety: Actions that support LGBTQ+ members to feel comfortable working without fear of physical, mental or emotional harm.
- Visibility: Actions that make LGBTQ+ workers feel seen and appreciated in their work environment.
- Flourishing: Actions that allow LGBTQ+, transgender and gender-expansive people to live full, meaningful lives.
Based on these core pillars, four key action steps come to the surface for organizations:
- Basic Trans-Inclusive Policies
Voluntary pronoun sharing in email signatures, video conferencing platforms, employee directories and any other place where your name and pronouns are displayed is an easy way to foster inclusion for transgender and gender-expansive employees.
- Healthcare and Mental Health
Meeting new therapists and conducting research on which healthcare providers are safe and affirming can take months for LGBTQ+ employees. Corporations can help by creating a directory of insurance approved providers that employees have already used or providers that are recommended by a local organization focused on LGBTQ+ health. This type of initiative can be transformative for gender-expansive employees. In addition to mental health support, offer health insurance plans that include benefits and coverage for gender-affirming care.
- Inclusivity and Leadership
LGBTQ+ workers express a need for more visible support from leadership. In many scenarios, the solution is not a multi-million-dollar initiative that takes months to develop. Instead, leaders and employees should focus on sincere moments where employees feel they can be honest about their feelings. It’s appropriate to say, “Hey, I’ve been seeing a lot of heartbreaking news about attacks on the transgender community. Are there any ways I can support you right now?” Even a simple question can open the door to a conversation on belonging and inclusivity, fostering more emotional safety and bridging connections between team members.
- Continuing Education
As an organization, creating employee training on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for LGBTQ+ people is absolutely critical. Making this education mandatory is a strategic way to encourage more engagement — particularly for people who aren’t already part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Building a culture of support takes time, intentionality and a willingness to learn and evolve. Many companies have room to grow — and taking action today will have a transformative impact on the lives of team members, both current and future.
Editor’s Note: Additional Content
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