Trans Pride with Pronouns Him, Her, They

Beyond Rainbow-Washing: Building Equitable Workplaces for LGBTQ+ Staff

Because it’s second nature to model a work environment from a cis-hetero perspective, many organizations face a lack of understanding and depth when trying to cultivate working conditions that are not only equitable but comfortable for their LGBTQ+ employees. It’s crucial, however, to current and future LGBTQ+ talent’s well-being, and even an organization’s bottom line, that we recognize and overcome these challenges. We believe there are a few ways organizations can help alleviate the added burden of navigating a professional environment catered to a cis-gendered norm and provide a workspace where LGBTQ+ staff are able to thrive by being their authentic selves. 


Why Inclusivity Matters 

Problems may be brewing beneath the surface if your organization isn’t striving to be a better workplace for your LGBTQ+ staff. While many organizations make attempts at shaping a better work environment, few can truly understand what their LGBTQ+ employees experience daily. 

According to LinkedIn, 34% of LGBTQ+ staff members prefer remote work because it alleviates the stress of needing to share their identity in the workplace, and 33% of LGBTQ+ professionals consistently expend energy to hide or protect their identity at work. LGBTQ+ workers of color specifically experience staggering volumes of discrimination, with 95% of workers reporting discrimination that has affected their psychological well-being. Roughly 88% of white LGBTQ+ workers experienced the same challenge. 

75% of LGBTQ+ professionals feel strongly that working at a company where they can be themselves is vital to them. If your organization is not actively working to create a more inclusive and equitable environment, it may be at risk of losing highly valued talent that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. 


Don’t “Rainbow-Wash” Your Support

Many organizations loudly and proudly support the LGBTQ+ community during LGBTQ+ Pride Month. While sharing rainbow-colored graphics on social media has become a general baseline for organizations wishing to showcase how inclusive their business is, it is important that an organization’s efforts are backed up by genuine, meaningful actions to institute equity amongst their staff members in this demographic group. Otherwise, they are merely “rainbow washing” their image to appeal to LGBTQ+ community members and their allies instead of making a difference for their LGBTQ+ staff. It’s important to show support and solidarity, but we cannot stop there.

Organizations often prioritize inclusivity when making business-critical decisions about recruitment or marketing. However, they often make the mistake of not addressing the internal standards they’ve set for current LGBTQ+ staff members, oftentimes doing very little in actuality to help those staff members by not standardizing equitable steps for inclusion or safety. Some may address the issue of discrimination by building non-discrimination policies based on gender and sexuality, and even though that step may make some employees feel safer at work, these do little to address inequitable systemic practices that LGBTQ+ employees face every day.


How to Take Action


Edgility suggests emphasizing equity over optics. Benefits packages that address LGBTQ+ specific needs are an absolute baseline for all businesses hoping to create an equitable environment for staff in that demographic. 49% of LGBTQ+ professionals won’t work at a company that doesn’t consider them when choosing employee benefits. These benefits should explicitly include same and different-sex partner benefits, trans-inclusive benefits, and mental health support. Benefits should also be extended to the children of staff members, who may need gender-affirming care, counseling services, or even the ability to seek a primary care physician who understands the importance of supporting trans, non-binary and genderqueer children. 

Learn more about LGBTQ+ inclusive benefits here.


Be open and upfront about your inclusive benefits packages, and make sure that all of these options are highlighted for all staff members regardless of their perceived sexual orientation or gender. We all know that navigating the United States healthcare system is no walk in the park, but it is often disproportionately more difficult for LGBTQ+ staff members when their options are unclear. Even when offering these benefits, it’s important to keep in mind that LGBTQ+ people often have to do additional work to find professionals or medical facilities that are LGBTQ+-friendly. This is why we also recommend that you offer a resource guide for staff members to look to when searching for any kind of  health support.


Don’t leave it up to your LGBTQ+ staff members to guess how, when or if it is appropriate to share their pronouns. Organizations should encourage asking for or offering pronouns and using gender-neutral greetings like “hello all” or “they” and “them” when addressing groups of people. Regardless of how you may perceive gender, it is important to never assume someone’s gender or sexual identity. Additionally, organizations can send a vital message to potential employees at the recruiting stage to show that their gender identity and expression are respected by providing space on applications for prospective candidates to declare their preferred name and the pronouns they use. All of that being said, it’s crucial that employers do not force staff to self-identify or use pronouns if they are not comfortable doing so. Respecting individual comfort levels and privacy is key to creating an inclusive and supportive workplace.

Another effective practice is to switch up pronouns in policies, employee handbooks, and other organizational documents. Traditionally, ‘he’ has often been used as a placeholder for “employee”, but what if you used ‘they’ or ‘she’ instead? Normalizing the use of inclusive pronouns like ‘they’ not only reflects a commitment to gender inclusivity but also helps create a more welcoming environment for all employees. This small yet significant change can demonstrate that the organization values and respects diverse gender identities.


Anti-discrimination policies are a good place to start, but organizations often neglect to provide guidance for interpersonal relationship building, which can cause challenges in a manager/direct report relationship. It is important to provide clear written guidelines and resources to establish best practices in transgender inclusion which should also include guidance for supporting gender transition or pronoun changes.

We encourage you to take your support a step further by enacting a policy that prohibits the support of organizations with an explicit policy or history of discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people. To truly be an ally, we need to be thoughtful about where we place support outside of our organizations and what partners we collaborate with. If you are not mindful of your organization’s relationships, you could partner with or support companies that may compromise the equity work you have done. This could have detrimental effects on the safety and mental health of LGBTQ+ staff and community members.

Don’t forget to take a look at the policies and guidelines your organization has that are not specifically geared towards supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Take, for example, a policy on dating within the company. Such a policy should explicitly recognize and respect all types of relationships, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. This means using inclusive language that applies to everyone and avoiding assumptions based on traditional or heteronormative relationship structures. By doing so, organizations can clearly communicate their expectations and standards, reduce misunderstandings, and ensure that all employees are held to the same standards. This tactical approach not only helps prevent potential legal issues, it also reinforces a consistent and fair application of company policies.


Let’s Talk About the Other Benefits

If we’re just focusing on the business side of things, it’s important to note that inclusivity boosts business outcomes. LGBTQ+ inclusive work environments tend to lead to better performance, retention, productivity, and well-being for employees, and they attract top talent. Younger generations actively seek employers who incorporate pronoun practices in their values. Furthermore, a majority of Americans support gender inclusivity in the workplace, with many saying that misusing a co-worker’s pronoun or chosen name is a form of workplace harassment. 

A more inclusive and equitable work environment can also reduce depression and improve self-esteem for LGBTQ+ workers, and added support from an employer can even save lives – supportive co-workers and work environments have been shown to reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts in transgender individuals.

It’s normal for an organization to feel a little lost when institutionalizing more equitable business practices.  Improving equity and inclusivity for LGBTQ+ employees is a worthwhile investment, and it is one your organization should focus on to keep and acquire LGBTQ+ talent and stay competitive in a workforce that celebrates inclusivity and diversity.


Created in collaboration with Edgility’s LGBTQ+ ERG.

If you have questions about creating equitable and inclusive work practices, or forming an LGBTQ+ ERG please reach out to us! 


Put your values to work. Act on equity.

We believe equity isn’t a box to check. It’s a daily action. Someone’s unique identity isn’t something to overcome–when paired with the right opportunity, it becomes one of their greatest professional assets. We exist to empower social impact organizations to recognize and overcome unconscious bias, racism and sexism so they can build a workforce that reflects and strengthens the communities they serve.