Beyond Rainbow Washing: Building LGBTQ+ Inclusive Benefits

By Jennifer Svendsen


Offering staff a well-thought-out benefits package is an important way your leadership team can show they care about the well-being of their most valuable assets – the people who make up their organization. Health and other benefits are great ways to recruit and retain valuable talent, and it’s imperative that they serve ALL staff members, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Standard benefits packages are often designed to serve the “default” cis-hetero ideal, and even the most well-intentioned organizations may neglect to assess whether their benefits packages are equitable and inclusive for LGBTQ+ staff members or LGBTQ+ dependents who often have vastly different experiences navigating the healthcare system than their heterosexual, cis-gendered counterparts.   

Inclusivity Has Its Benefits

18% of non-profit sector employees surveyed in Edgility’s Talent Equity Assessment have self-identified as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. An additional 16% selected “Prefer not to self-identify” when asked about their sexual orientation or gender. While it is encouraging to see that a sizable amount of people feel comfortable freely expressing their gender or sexual identity, it’s important to note the large percentage of respondents who did not. Although the world is becoming more accepting of individuals in this community, it is likely that at least some of the individuals who declined to share their identity may be a part of the LGBTQ+ community but feel uncomfortable bringing their full selves to work. 

Up to 34% of non-profit employees may identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, and according to a research study by LinkedIn, 49% of LGBTQ+ professionals will not work at a company that does not have LGBTQ+-friendly benefits. How many potential rockstar employees might an organization be alienating by neglecting to consider the needs of the LGBTQ+ community in their benefits packages? 

Equitable Benefits for LGBTQIA2S+ Staff Members

So, how can you make sure your benefits match your organization’s current or potential LGBTQ+ staff members’ needs? Considering the unique struggles faced by the community is a good place to start. The following features will help make your benefits package more inclusive and equitable for LGBTQ+ staff members or dependents. 

  • Mental Health –  Being a member of a marginalized community can have very negative effects on one’s mental health. In fact, according to LinkedIn, 50% of LGBTQ+ professionals say their mental health has been affected by recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. We recommend ensuring your organization’s health plan covers virtual and in person mental health services and, ideally, providers who specialize in LGBTQ+ mental health. 
  • Paid Family Leave – Standard maternity leave typically only extends to parents who have physically given birth. Regardless of how a child enters a family, all parents should be supported in meeting their family’s needs during the first few months after arrival. We suggest organizations provide equitable family leave for persons of all gender identities to bond with new members of the family. 
  • Adoption or Fertility Assistance – For all individuals, including those that are part of the LGBTQ+ community, birthing a child is not always a possibility without intervention, so we encourage organizations to consider providing adoption assistance or health packages that include infertility treatment to support these individuals. Adoption assistance could be in the form of an Adoption FSA, financial assistance, or resource guides that share information specific to adoption. Fertility assistance can include support for sperm donation, IVF, and surrogacy. Critically, if you offer these benefits, all staff should be eligible to receive them regardless of their relationship status or type. 
  • Gender-affirming treatments – Inclusive health plans should cover medical interventions such as hormone therapy and surgical interventions like top surgery. We encourage organizations that we work with to extend this benefits coverage to both married and domestic partners as well as employee dependents. 

Best Practices for Inclusive Benefits Packages

First and foremost, it is vital that all benefits documents use gender-inclusive pronouns. These documents are often the first exposure current or potential staff members have to your organization’s benefits packages. Start off on the right foot by making it clear that benefits apply to everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Second, be very intentional about the designing of your benefits packages and carefully selecting the right providers. Many nonprofits use PEOs or other types of benefits administrators, so we recommend looking for administrators or providers who focus specifically on diversity, equity, and inclusion. They will understand the nuances of your mission and be able to guide you through making the best benefits decisions for ALL staff members. 

Third, always remember the goal. Your target should not be to provide the bare minimum to as many employees as possible. Instead, it should be to wrap every staff member in a ‘warm blanket’ of support and inclusion regardless of their background. 

Fourth, be proactive. Stay caught up with the news, and never stop seeking information about how to make your benefits packages more inclusive and equitable for your LGBTQ+ staff members. Attend seminars and continuously read up on the latest benefits trends. Hint: Platforms like Out and Equal have fantastic resources that can help you get started. Not only will this help ensure that your LGBTQ+ staff members feel valued and supported by their workplace, but it will also help your organization stay competitive when trying to hire top talent.

Fifth, be helpful. Healthcare benefits can be difficult to understand, particularly in the US. Navigating the healthcare system is no walk in the park, especially when you’re a member of a stigmatized community who may experience discrimination from doctors or other medical professionals. Providing specialized benefits guides for LGBTQ+ staff members or LGBTQ+ dependents can help minimize the disproportionate burden those individuals have to face simply for living their lives authentically. Provide as many resources as possible and make time to answer the questions and concerns of your staff members so everyone has access to what they need.

General Benefits Trends in the Non-Profit Sector

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.15 million people quit their jobs in August 2022. This staggering statistic should put retention at the forefront of all strategic conversations for organizations in the nonprofit sector and beyond. So how can you keep your team engaged and loyal? Edgility’s annual Benefits Survey uncovered a few trends in the nonprofit sector that organizations should take into consideration when planning their hiring and retention plan for the coming year.  

  • Providing wellness and mental health options to all staff such as stipends, free or discounted access to meditation apps, and/or therapy resources. 
  • Increasing paid time off, implementing office shutdowns, and giving staff the option to work remotely to allow them time to rest and rejuvenate when they are burnt out and achieve a healthy work/life balance.
  • Crafting highly tailored benefits packages that cover everyone and promote a sense of belonging, like ones that feature the benefits we’ve discussed here. 

Additionally, you shouldn’t just take our word for it. Survey your staff to understand their feelings around the benefits you offer! At Edgility, our Talent Equity Assessment survey asks questions across the talent life cycle. It asks not only if staff are using the benefits they are offered, but also if they understand how to access them, if they feel their organization’s benefits are fair and appropriate and if their benefits package is a reason they may consider looking for new job opportunities. We’ll then provide your organization with an extensive report giving you critical insight into how equitably your talent practices support the growth and retention of staff from all backgrounds and offer actionable insights and suggestions to address any gaps the survey uncovers.


The Takeaway 

When leaders put in the care and effort to learn about the issues facing their diverse staff members, they can start achieving equity. By intentionally providing benefits packages that take everyone’s needs into account, organizations can make their work environment a safe and fair place for all. 

Are you concerned about how your benefits package may affect staff retention and hiring at your organization or wondering how you stack up against competitors? We’re here to help! Purchase our 2022 Non-Profit Benefits Survey Report to gain insight or chat with us to see how we can assist you in creating a more equitable workplace today.


Meet the expert:

Jennifer Svendsen

  • Builds Equitable Organizations
  • Talent Management Support
  • Closes Wage Gaps

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.