More than 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills at the state level have been introduced in 2023, according to the ACLU—nearing double the 240 filed last year. The bills include banning gender-affirming care, drag performances, and LGBTQ history curriculum in schools. They allow healthcare providers and payors (including employers) to refuse certain healthcare services to LGBTQ+ people. The freedom and livelihoods of LGBTQ people are under assault.
LGBTQ+ professionals in the workplace continue to face disproportionate rates of mental health challenges because of discrimination within organizations and broader society.
Against this backdrop, companies and their leadership must take an active and strategic approach to support their LGBTQ+ workers’ mental health meaningfully. Here are three timely actions employers can take.
Provide high-quality and inclusive health care.
This is the bare minimum for any organization seeking to support the mental health of their LGBTQ+ workers. Employee offerings include:
A diverse network of LGBTQ+ mental health providers and/or those who have experience with these populations.
LGBTQ+ and trans-inclusive healthcare benefits, including gender-affirming care, coverage for gender-confirming treatment, and more.
Extended coverage for family members, children, and non-heterosexual couples. With many of this year’s bills impacting access to important healthcare for LGBTQ+ youth, it’s important to ensure your insurance plans cover services that extend to family members and children, including same-sex couples.
In response to the growing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, employers can not only place greater effort into sharing their existing resources and how to access and navigate them, but also invest greater funds to expand these benefits to, at the very least, meet greater demand in the short-term.
“This can include creating comprehensive guides around navigating the healthcare system for LGBTQ+ individuals,” writes Mind Share Partners’ Senior Manager of Insights, Bernie Wong, in Harvard Business Review. “Or even more simply: Identify a clear, designated point of contact on your HR team who is a part of or allied with the LGBTQ+ community who can sit down with employees, outline the resources available, walk them through how to access them, and answer any questions.”
Build skills, safety, and systems around LGBTQ+ mental health.
The workplace itself tends to have a greater negative impact on LGBTQ+ workers who face isolation and ostracization, harassment, unwarranted comments, and barriers to career progression. In fact, Mind Share Partners’ 2021 report found that 74% of LGBTQ+ workers said their work or workplace environment negatively impacted their mental health, compared to 46% of non-LGTBQ+ workers.
Creating organizational cultures and systems that support workers can vary widely, but often fall into three core categories:
Actively combating anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and creating accountability mechanisms. From combating hiring bias, creating trans-inclusive office facilities, instilling norms around pronouns, and segmenting employee engagement outcomes by LGBTQ+ employees, to true and meaningful resolution of anti-LGBTQ+ escalations, there are many strategies to building systems and supportive organizational culture.
Investing in spaces and voices, whether by featuring LGBTQ+ leaders, to hosting employee resource groups, to hosting learning sessions for non-LGBTQ+ employees. Employers further empower LGBTQ+ ERGs and mental health ERGs by providing executive sponsors to bridge the gap between company leadership and the ERG, and elevate the conversations and concerns of these groups. Formal and informal storytelling can also serve as a research-backed catalyst in normalizing the mental health experiences of LGBTQ+ workers.
Implementing mental health training through a DEIBJ lens. Finally, equip workers to understand their unique roles when it comes to workplace mental health, how to proactively support it, and how mental health experiences vary across, within, and at the intersections of identities and communities, including the LGBTQ+ community. For example, Mind Share Partners led a half-day session focused on mental health for Kearney’s Proud Network. “[The session] gave the Proud Network tools to support each other and enrich connections in our community,” says Andrew Furash, Manager at Kearney and Proud Retreat Lead. “The session helped us live authentically, bring our whole selves to work, and capitalize on the value in our differences.”
Beyond ERGs, training can extend to managers and leaders. In fact, a UKG report found that managers have a greater influence on employee mental health than both therapists or doctors, and equal to that of spouses and partners.
Recommit to Broader Efforts
Employers need to be authentic in their support, and not just during Pride month, but 365 days a year.
“We’ve seen it again and again,” writes Jared Todd, Press Secretary at the Human Rights Campaign. “Businesses that stand up for the values they espouse send a powerful message to their employees, shareholders, and customers that equality is not up for debate. Every time businesses stand up and speak out for LGBTQ+ equality, they come out on top, regardless of baseless, anti-business attacks.”
Recommitting to the LGBTQ+ community serves not only as ethical table stakes—it is fundamental to the future of work and the world amidst growing activism among shareholders and the future workforce alike.
“No matter what workplace strategies you explore and employ,” writes Wong. “Their purpose is not to accommodate LGBTQ+ people because they are different, but to correct for long-standing norms and practices that treat LGBTQ+ folks as different.”
Mind Share Partners is a national nonprofit changing workplace mental health culture so employees and organizations can thrive. Its movement building program includes content, campaigns, partnerships, cutting-edge thought leadership, including a virtual community to support leaders of mental health employee resource groups (ERGs). It also provides full-service, customized workplace mental health training, strategy + advising, and transformation solutions using a proactive, preventive approach with a DEIBJ lens.