While LGBTQ+ Pride Month took place in June, the inclusivity and opportunities for learning that the month embodies should be exemplified year-round, argues Omar Dawood.

We can be proud of the advances made in the LGBTQ+ rights movement, but there is still space for improvement, especially in the workplace. Too many LGBTQ+ people still struggle to be themselves, with many feeling the need to hide who they are at work. A 2018 Stonewall study found that more than a third of LGBTQ+ staff hid the fact that they are part of the LGBTQ+ community at work because they were afraid they would face some form of discrimination.

Why should business leaders care about this?

Business and HR leaders play a crucial role in creating a welcoming environment for all workers across the diversity spectrum. And, it should happen throughout the year, not just during the month of June. Employees are their best when they feel included, where their individual voices are heard and taken into consideration, and where they can feel comfortable to be their true selves. However, when this is not achieved it can have adverse effects on employee productivity, retention and wellbeing.

Not being able to express themselves authentically can lead these diverse employees to experience feelings of loneliness. New Government research found that those who identify as gay or lesbian are 1.4 times more likely to be affected by loneliness and subsequent mental health concerns. This number rises to 2.5 times more likely for bisexuals.

This has a clear impact on mental wellbeing, potentially leading to anxiety and depression, while also putting increased pressure on these employees. A study from LinkedIn and YouGov found that 24 percent of LGBTQ+ employees remained closeted specifically because they felt it would affect their career opportunities.

Loneliness can be damaging for businesses, with research finding that 12 percent of lonely workers claim more inefficient work quality and poorer engagement. With LGBTQ+ employees disproportionately affected, employers must take action to prevent adverse effects on their work, productivity and wider business goals.

So, what steps can business and HR leaders take to make the workplace more inclusive?

Foster a sense of belonging

Belonging exists when business leaders take into consideration diversity, inclusion, and equity within the workplace. Helping employees to feel included without judgement and barriers is as important as ensuring employee engagement.

By building and nurturing relationships within the workplace, business leaders can ensure that employees’ voices are heard, understood, and appreciated. It can foster better collaboration amongst teams and help to create empathy and allyship, which is crucial for LGBTQ+ employees.

Not only can fostering a sense of belonging and connection benefit worker productivity and engagement, but it also lowers negative feelings in the office as well as lower the risk of turnover. BetterUp research found that employees with a low rate of social connection experience 158 percent increased rates of anxiety and depression, 109% increase in burnout and 77 percent  increase in stress. .

Feeling connected to a team impacts performance as well as an organisation’s ability to retain high-performing talent, solve complex challenges, and navigate tough times together. Creating a sense of belonging, especially for LGBTQ+ employees, can take many forms but it all comes down to creating an environment of respect and inclusion.

Creating a psychologically safe workspace

Communication is one of the most important ways that business leaders can begin to promote inclusion.

LinkedIn found that 59 percent of respondents work at companies that have not made statements towards LGBTQ+ specific issues and legislation. Additionally, 33% believe that their companies did nothing to make them feel heard or supported amidst ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

These findings demonstrate that inclusion for LGBTQ+ staff comes from the top-down. Indeed, managers can have the biggest impact on encouraging this. Our research has found that leaders who promote inclusivity are 2.5 times more likely to have employees who feel like they belong. It is imperative that business leaders forge the path in making deliberate attempts at communication for these groups both externally, but also internally.

By doing this, they create a psychologically safe workspace in which people feel comfortable to speak up and share their ideas. BetterUp research has shown that people within underrepresented groups experience 27 percent

less psychological safety within the workplace. As a result, business leaders should also aim to encourage open, safe communication within their internal structures.

A workplace for everyone

Workplace culture remains an important factor in the difference between retention and turnover as 75 percent of LGBTQ+ workers said that it is important that they worked at a place where they could be themselves, according to data provided by LinkedIn.

Working in an environment where employees feel their identity is excluded or not taken into consideration can cause a decline in performance, wellbeing, and retention. As such, employers should invest in benefits that enable a culture of belonging. For example, BetterUp Care™ is an integrated mental health offering that provides guidance and support on a personalised level via 1:1 coaching to help employees feel empowered in their workplace.

Ultimately, it is critical that employers make efforts to celebrate identity and promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity throughout the year to really impact positive change in their work culture.


Omar Dawood is President of BetterUp Care.





Omar Dawood MD, MPH, MBA brings more than 25 years of senior management, medical research and clinical experience, most recently serving as the Chief Medical Officer and Head of Sales for Calm. As President of BetterUp Care™ he leads sales, marketing and product teams to bring hyper-personalized mental fitness and science-backed preventative solutions, including 1:1 and group coaching, to employers globally.