If your company is actively asking the question “How can we best support our LGBTQ+ employees?” then you are already part of this important conversation. But it’s important to directly answer this question with concrete steps you can take today, this week, and this year to create a culture of support and inclusion that will benefit every member of your team.

Harvard Business School students and alumni shared with us what they have seen companies doing well to support LGBTQ+ employees, and where there are areas for improvement. Use these recommendations as a guide to make changes that drive real results.

Equity Audits

The first step is to understand where your organization needs to improve so that time and money can be put behind the right efforts. Elizabeth Zwart (MBA 2023) recommended companies “explore, and then address, the ways in which homophobia and sexism may be showing up within the company norms and culture.” Actively solicit feedback and listen to members of your community about their lived experience so that these practices are part of the conversation.

Equity audits can also be used to bring in outside perspectives about opportunities for change. Zwart encouraged companies to “pay transgender folks / transgender advocates to conduct equity audits and put resources behind the recommendations they offer.”

C-Suite Allies

Awareness then needs to be coupled with action. As John Davis (MBA 2020) shared, “The most impactful way I've felt supported as an LGBTQ+ employee is by actions and words from senior leadership of the companies I've worked for.” Examples included the CEO of one company attending a retreat for the Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG) and the CEO of another company participating in a Town Hall on LGBTQ+ health and wellbeing. Davis continued “Support from CEOs made me know that the wellbeing and success of LGBTQ+ talent was on their mind and a priority.”

Paul Donaher (MBA 1981) echoed the point about senior leadership support and offered a suggestion on how to build that support if it does not currently exist: “Educate leaders through special training programs about how their latent homophobia might manifest itself without them even being aware of it.”

C-level leadership can also take action outside of their organizations to show support for their employees and the LGBTQ+ community. Zwart recommended actively lobbying and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights in countries that companies operate in where LGBTQ+ folks are criminalized and/or marriage is not legally recognized.

Inclusive Language Communication

Another important change companies can make is adapting inclusive language as a norm. Davis recommended “Use inclusive language in company-wide communications, encourage employees to put their preferred pronouns in their signature, and create a culture that encourages the use of gender-neutral pronouns when asking folks about their private lives as it relates to their partner.”

Matt Wood (MBA 2024) recognized inclusive language as a key aspect of the culture at Social Finance. “What Social Finance lacked in scale (as compared to larger organizations), it made up for in active allyship and initiative,” Wood shared. “While at Social Finance, I experienced the dynamic community built from a mission-driven organization and felt supported through inclusive language, DEI initiatives, and aligned project work.”

Inclusive language also means ensuring that all members of the LGBTQ+ community feel supported and safe. “Celebrate folks in different gender relationships as part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Zwart said. “And explicitly talk about the ways in which transgender employees may face different barriers than other parts of the LGBTQ community. Create intentional space to talk about that.”

Inclusive language and safe spaces also include increasing gender options on company surveys, including multi-select and “prefer not to answer” choices, and work spaces with gender neutral bathroom facilities.

Robust and Resourced Employee Resource Groups

Another common theme shared by HBS students and alumni is the importance of Employee Resource Groups or Affinity Groups. These affirming communities create connection and community and when these groups are appropriately resourced to host events and programs it highlights an organization’s commitment to their LGBTQ+ employees.

At some companies, ERGs serve as foundational aspects of the firms’ professional ecosystems. For Justin Schlacks (MBA 2023), the summer happy hour that his company holds at the beginning of each summer to welcome interns has created a valuable opportunity for connection.

Zwart also shared how company sponsored LGBTQ+ affinity groups can enhance the experience for members. “Offer different levels of membership or clearly outlined individual member disclosure (i.e. informed, out to other LGBTQ+ people, the company, beyond the company),” they recommended. Doing so creates a safe space for all members of the community to engage.

Benefits Packages

Creating and informing employees about inclusive benefits package is another key way that employers can support LGBTQ+ employees. For example, Schlacks shared that his company "provides generous benefits for medical expenses related to family planning for employees (financial assistance for adoption and surrogacy). These benefits made it clear that supporting the LGBTQ+ community is a priority for the bank.”

Zwart offered recommendations for additional benefits that should be included in an inclusive benefits package including “Covering transition-related medical care, fully covering mental health services like therapy (LGBTQ+ folks disproportionately suffer from mental health conditions, largely tied to the discrimination many LGBTQ+ folks face), and providing sufficient parental leave for parents of all genders.”

They also highlighted the importance of creating inclusive policies that do not use marriage as a gatekeeper for benefits. For example, allowing dependents on benefits plans that are not legally married but that have a relationship approximating marriage as well as covering tax implications through pay that accounts for tax liability for covering benefits for all partners.

Another important benefit is employer donation match. Donaher noted how he felt supported by his company through their active language and ERG, but also through a generous employee donation match program. “As LGBTQ organizations were at the top of my list (of organizations he supports), I felt that [they] supported me even in a financial way,” he said.

Furthermore, Davis emphasized the importance of making sure employees are aware of benefits during open enrollment period so that team members understand the support they can receive from the organization and how to take advantage of the resources.

Recruiting, Promoting, and Coaching LGBTQ+ Talent

Your company can also support LGBTQ+ employees with active recruitment and retention efforts. As Wood noted, “Through conversations with the talent team and senior leadership at Social Finance, we were able to find new means for LGBTQ+ applicants to be identified and engaged throughout the recruitment process. This was a great step in making the application process align with our DEI objectives.”

After recruitment comes retention which includes many of the suggestions we have shared above as well as coaching and promotion. Tailored coaching on developing within the organization while honoring and embracing intersectional identities can help employees navigate promotion cycles, client engagements, and interpersonal dynamics.

It’s important to note as we discuss promotion, this should be across departments for true representation and diversity of thought and experience across the organization. Zwart shared that actively promoting LGBTQ+ employees into leadership roles, especially in areas that are not explicitly focused on DEI, is particularly important.

Education & Conferences

HBS students and alumni also highlighted the importance of ongoing education, within and outside of the organization. For example, Wood shared at Social Finance every heritage month (e.g. Pride, Black History Month), teammates research an aspect of the heritage culture (music, historical leaders, food, etc.) and educate the entire firm on their self-directed learning.

Schlacks would also love to see more companies who have been successful creating welcoming environments for LGBTQ+ employees host conferences for their industries. These events allow companies to share knowledge about the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce as well as the issues specific to the LGBTQ+ community.

In addition, conference attendance should be paid time with travel covered Zwart recommended. Remove barriers for employees to engage and your company can create a culture where ongoing learning and support is encouraged and expected.