Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
June 30, 2021

LGBTQ+ Inclusion in the Workplace: HR’s Role

During Pride Month 2021, three top HR leaders sat down with Spencer Stuart’s Tom Scanlan for a virtual roundtable discussion on HR’s role in corporate LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion initiatives. The panelists were:

Offutt kicked off the session by sharing some sobering numbers on LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace from a study conducted by United Minds, Weber Shandwick’s management consultancy: Over a quarter have suffered discrimination or experienced harassment at work, and a third believe they have suffered from microaggressions. One stat stands out to Offutt, however: Half of LGBTQ+ workers do not believe that HR will swiftly, and competently, address complaints about discrimination, harassment or incivility.

“That is the part that really stabs me in the heart,” Offutt said. “When I look at numbers like that, I realize that we have a long way to go.”

Below we look at the key themes that emerged from our roundtable discussion.

Bringing your “whole self” to work

A 2021 LinkedIn survey found that 47% of LGBTQ+ workers believe that being out would hinder their job search efforts. Indeed, for all the progress of recent years, our panelists called attention to how much still needs to be done for LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace. For example, de Beyer pointed to the difficulty companies have in allowing for employee gender self-identification — starting with their HR technology.

“As an HR practitioner that's fostering an inclusive environment where people can thrive… it’s a really interesting time to readdress our assumptions,” de Beyer said. “So many things are changing in the space. How people self-identify is evolving – we know there are people who don’t want to identify as one part of the community, whose identity might be fluid. We need to be thoughtful in our approach.”

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ+ employees could not be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, companies still have more to do to ensure those employees feel at home at work, Pambianchi said. She noted that HR, as designer and implementer of people policies, must play a primary role in making sure that happens.

“There's a lot of fear about bringing your whole self to work,” she said. “People have parallel lives and may be closed off at work. They're worried they won’t be welcome, or that it may have financial implications, affect their career or personal goals, or impact job security…. Have we in HR done all we can to make sure LGBTQ+ community members can feel safe, be fully open and thrive?"

Creating a truly inclusive environment

Since de Beyer returned to Goldman Sachs in 2020 to lead HR — he was first part of the firm in its investment banking division in the late 1990s — he has engaged in grassroots efforts to elevate the LGBTQ+ community there. He has continued to find role models whose stories highlight Goldman Sachs as a safe place to be yourself.

“Those stories travel like wildfire through the community,” de Beyer said. “Stories are so powerful, as is the comfort with which you relay those stories…. I keep saying that I come out every week at Goldman Sachs so that I can reach more people. I talk about it all the time, and it's really important.”

For global companies, inclusion can be tricky. Some countries lack laws protecting LGBTQ+ employees, and others offer no rights for the LGBTQ+ population. In some jurisdictions, they may be sentenced to death.

“There's a real need, particularly for HR team members here or around the world, to think about what we could do to help create a community inside our company,” Pambianchi said, “where people can live and thrive and be safe but be mindful of what they face outside of work.”

Offutt noted that his firm appreciates diversity, equity and inclusion needs and channels are different across cultures — and has created 19 bespoke diversity programs across its global network.

“I think that when we say that inclusion is a global policy, it's important to remember that every culture is different,” Offutt said. “We think inclusion is a global principle. We also think diversity means different things in different countries.”

HR as an LGBTQ+ ally

Offutt pointed out that LGBTQ+ inclusion is a people issue, and human resources — as the organizational people function — is central to pushing it forward.

One key role? “Rally functional allies,” Offutt said. “This is good for business, [and] for the bottom line. Get [other functions] involved. If an HR leader rallies that functional allyship, it can go a long way toward big results.”

Offutt and de Beyer pointed to Pambianchi’s own role as a vocal ally as key to creating an inclusive culture.

“It's only because of allies like Christy that I'm here,” de Beyer said. “Having that activated, thoughtful, engaged ally is a game changer — allies help you feel safe, proud and able to thrive expressing your individuality at work.”

Pambianchi for her part said that she remains committed to the role of HR leadership in driving positive change for LGBTQ+ employees.

“I take every setback like a knife to the heart, but then I go, ‘OK, I’m going to keep moving forward,’” Pambianchi said. “We have so much influence over who gets to work and all that that means—your social mobility, your ability to support your family, your fulfillment in life—and we should take that responsibility very seriously.”