LGBT-friendly workplaces make business sense

Lunch-and-learn sessions, celebration of Pride can engage employees
By Brent Chamberlain
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/17/2012

In Canada, where diversity and equity have been part of the HR lexicon for decades, many assume pressing issues for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT) community in the workplace have been solved by legislation and cultural change.

For instance, almost all (93 per cent) LGBT Canadians described their employer’s overall attitude toward LGBT people as “tolerant,” according to a 2011 Angus Reid poll.

However, tolerance is only the first step toward building a truly inclusive work environment. More than one-quarter (28 per cent) of respondents were not open about their sexual orientation at work and 35 per cent of gay men and 40 per cent of lesbian respondents said they had experienced some sort of discrimination during their professional lives.

A shift toward legislative equality and cultural awareness of the LGBT community has vastly improved workplaces for LGBT Canadians, but there is still much work to be done.

Starting in the early-2000s, spurred on by the developments of good practice in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Canadian companies began to take proactive measures to create more inclusive workplaces, many of which are now reaping the rewards 10 years later.

First came the foundation of LGBT-employee-led resource groups (ERGs), founded to create a forum for employees to discuss what steps were necessary to create a more inclusive environment. Then, after ERGs presented ideas to their employers, policies such as same-sex benefits started to change (in many cases before legislation such as same-sex marriage was federally recognized in 2005).

Now, in some cases, many LGBT ERGs from Canada’s leading firms count hundreds of members as part of their groups and work on a diverse portfolio of initiatives, from business development to reverse mentoring programs.

Much of this good practice originated in the banking and professional services sectors where trailblazers such as CIBC and IBM were followed by the Ontario Public Service — whose Pride Network just celebrated its five-year anniversary — Telus and, more recently, law firms such as McCarthy Tétrault and Norton Rose Canada.

Organizations taking steps to engage LGBT employees are now looking to companies such as TD Bank Financial Group, which is not only authentically engaging its LGBT customers and clients but supporting victims of homophobic bullying in schools across North America by launching a “Make it better” video featuring the bank’s CEO Ed Clark.

First steps

For organizations just beginning the journey, the first steps can seem daunting. For example, how can a company engage part of its workforce that it doesn’t even know exists? Therefore, it is vital the right tone is set from early on.

This workplace inclusion can include initiatives such as lunch-and-learn sessions about the LGBT community or celebrating Pride in the office. Whatever the initiative, it is imperative organizations mention sexual orientation and gender identity when referencing their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Once the foundation has been laid, diversity champions — together with HR departments and senior leadership — can craft a strong message on why the organization feels an LGBT-friendly workplace is good for employees, customers and the business generally. This message should indicate the organization is seeking LGBT-identified employees and their allies to provide feedback to the organization on how it can better engage the workforce on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.

At this point, it is also important for organizations to look to the LGBT community outside the workplace and good practice networks for additional advice and support.

Top employers for diverse groups realize the journey toward full workplace inclusion is far from over. Within the LGBT community, many ERGs remain male-dominated, symptomatic of the lower levels of engagement from LGBT-identified women. Similarly, trans-identified employees report higher rates of discrimination than the LGBT community as a whole.

Ontario’s Bill 33, which guarantees the right to be free from discrimination and harassment because of gender identity or gender expression in the province, only received royal assent on June 19, 2012. The business imperative of creating LGBT-friendly workplaces has helped many employers extend diversity initiatives to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, a trend many hope will continue to grow over the next few years.

Brent Chamberlain is executive director of Pride at Work Canada, an organization supporting the LGBT community at Canadian workplaces. Founded in 2008, it aims to educate and provide networking opportunities for diversity professionals, LGBT ERGs and allies across Canada. For more information, contact or visit

Business case for pride

The numbers behind diversity

By Graeme Imrie

In an economy still recovering from the global financial crisis, businesses are being pushed to find new markets and do more with less. One solution may be hidden in plain sight — the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT) community.

Since LGBT people make up between five per cent and 10 per cent of the workforce, creating an LGBT-positive culture can have a positive impact on top and bottom-line performance.

However, engaging LGBT employees can be tricky because they don’t necessarily look any different than anyone else and, depending on the workplace culture, may not feel comfortable being out at work.

LGBT workers who don’t feel they can safely be out at work are up to 30 per cent less productive, according to the 2007 University of Wisconsin study Making the Invisible Visible: Fear and Disclosure of Sexual Orientation.

They’re also more likely to suffer stress, depression or exhaustion and much more likely to want to quit, according to the Center for Work-Life Policy (now the Center for Talent Innovation) in New York. And this is a highly desirable labour pool: 75 per cent are ambitious; 88 per cent are willing to go the extra mile for employers; and 48 per cent of LGBT respondents have graduate degrees versus 40 per cent of their straight counterparts, found a 2011 survey of 2,952 respondents by the centre.

LGBT employees who are not out reported significantly greater feelings of being stalled in their careers and greater dissatisfaction with their rates of promotion and advancement. Those who are not out are 40 per cent less likely to trust their employer than those who are out and are 73 per cent more likely to leave their companies within the next three years.

And 78 per cent of LGBT people said knowing a business is LGBT-friendly would influence their buying decisions, according to a 2010 survey released by the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in the United States.

Graeme Imrie is founding partner of, an online community where LGBT talent and progressive employers connect. He can be reached at or (855) 64-PROUD.

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