For much of my Aunt Lois’ long career as an English literature professor in Texas, she was in the closet. Now in her 80s, she was typical of many LGBTQ individuals of her era who kept their public and personal lives separate out of self-preservation. When Aunt Lois did come out, she faced discrimination and harrassment, yet she fought to advance LGBTQ rights and inclusion by helping establish early Pride Month activities in her city. 

 

Today, businesses and institutions of all kinds show their support of Pride Month during the month of June each year by organizing events, activities, talks or workshops, or sponsoring activities. However, support and activism can be taken further and must extend beyond a month of focus. To ensure true, ongoing inclusion, support for LGBTQ employees needs to continue year round.

 

The good news is that the business community has made strides in inclusion and advancement of LGBTQ individuals. Recent data from Catalyst, a nonprofit organization, shows that today the majority of Fortune 500 companies offer benefits to support the LGBTQ community, including  non-discrimination policies that address sexual orientation, domestic partner benefits and transgender-inclusive benefits. 

 

Despite this progress, there is still much work to be done as LGBTQ employees still often face hostility and discrimination in the workplace. According to Catalyst, 20% of LGBTQ Americans have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when applying for jobs. Many LGBTQ individuals experience pay inequity and are subject to inappropriate LGBTQ related humor. Transgender employees face different types of harassment and obstacles, from bathroom accessibility, incorrect pronoun usage and inappropriate questioning. 

 

According to Catalyst, nearly half of LGBTQ workers in the United States are still closeted in the workplace. Fear often prevents LGBTQ employees from bringing their full, authentic selves to work, as was the case for my aunt. Spending time and energy concealing one’s orientation or gender identity can be exhausting. 

 

I asked local leaders: “Why is LGBTQ inclusion and advancement in the workplace so important to Iowa businesses?” 


Rona Berinobis, vice president, chief diversity, equity, inclusion and well-being officer, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield: Creating a company culture of inclusion where our LGBTQ employees and members feel seen, heard, and cared for is the only way to ensure our diversity efforts have a real impact. As a business, this culture of inclusiveness helps us to attract and retain talent, inspires innovation and just as important, ensures LGBTQ employees feel free to bring their authentic selves to work.


Jen Carruthers, president, Capital City Pride: Businesses that intentionally seek a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive team will be more unique, innovative, and generally more successful. LGBTQ individuals bring different perspectives, experiences, and insights that enhance any business line. Companies that don’t recruit and create a safe, uplifting, and empowering work environment with diverse leadership are the companies that will be left behind.


Chris Diebel, director of public affairs, Iowa Business Council: Focusing on workforce inclusion and advancement is a fundamental element of corporate success and responsibility. It is also crucial for the long-term health of our state. Iowa is one of the least diverse states in the nation. Our population growth is sluggish and concentrated in larger metros. To grow a vibrant workforce across Iowa, we must be welcoming to all. 


Courtney Reyes, executive director, One Iowa: In the past two years, 29 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in the Iowa Legislature. Iowa is in desperate need of high-quality employees. We need inclusive policies and workplace culture to recruit and retain diverse individuals to our state, not hateful legislation. Businesses and people thrive when inclusion is a priority. 


Becky Ritland, executive director, Iowa Safe Schools: LGBTQ youth are current and future contributors to Iowa’s workplace economy. With nearly one in five young adults identifying as LGBTQ, we need to ensure we are promoting spaces where all Iowans feel welcome.


Rich A. Salas, Ph.D., chief diversity officer and assistant professor, Des Moines University: Studies show the positive impact of LGBT-inclusive practices on businesses and the ability to attract and retain employees. At Des Moines University, we integrate LGBT-specific concerns in the classroom, clinic, and specialized programming ... and our students are leading the way for the next generation of doctors by starting and continuing to host Trans Health Week. 


We’ve come a long way since my aunt started her career, but leaders must continue to support and advance LGBTQ employees. Businesses can harness the energy of Pride Month to promote inclusion year round. Everyone should be able to bring their true self to work.