Be a LGBTQ Workplace Champion by Avoiding These Five Mistakes

Originally posted in the Portland Business Journal.

Happy Pride! This month celebrates the significant contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. When it comes to Pride at work, we often center our celebrations around food, fun, and famous people. While important, this month often inspires the most enlightened business leaders to consider how their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitments could be more inclusive of their LGBTQ stakeholders. 

This post is written especially for those DEI champions ready to take their efforts to the next level. These leaders understand the compelling business case for LGBTQ inclusion, and are ready to begin taking action to build a more inclusive organization. Before getting started, it’s important to understand the common mistakes executive teams often make, and learn the strategies available to avoid them.

#1 MISTAKEBusiness leaders view the "LGBTQ community" as a monolith.

THE FIX: LEVEL SET TERMINOLOGY. Let’s be honest. LGBTQ terminology can get very confusing – even for those of us within the rainbow family. Before business leaders can set LGBTQ inclusion goals, they must get clear on who they are talking about, and gain a better sense of the challenges LGBTQ people face at work.

To get started, here are a few key points to remember:

  • While every person has a sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, the LGBTQ acronym includes people and communities that do not identify as straight, cisgender, and gender conforming.                                                                                              
  • The LGBTQ acronym includes many different sexual orientations, including gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. It also includes a variety of gender identities including transgender and non-binary people, along with different gender expressions such as androgynous people.                                                                                                                                              
  • Remember, there is no singular “LGBTQ community,” but rather subcultures within subcultures of people from every part of the world, every race, every class, every ability, every age, etc. As such, your LGBTQ inclusion goals should complement your broader diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitments.

Mistake #2: It’s not enough to mention LGBTQ people as a part of your DEI commitment, and lean on your LGBTQ ERG to lead the way.

THE FIX: MOVE BEYOND LIP SERVICE. LGBTQ people and our allies can discern sincerity when it comes to the workplace’s LGBTQ inclusion commitment. It’s simply not enough to give a speech every June about LGBTQ inclusion and establish a LGBTQ employee resource group (ERG), hoping these volunteer staff will drive the leadership and innovation required to cultivate a workplace culture of belonging for LGBTQ people.

Sure, your LGBTQ ERG can offer some great perspectives and talking points for your Pride Month speeches; however, they cannot set the tone and strategic direction as to what the organization’s expectations are around welcoming LGBTQ stakeholders. The success of such commitments starts (and ends) with the leadership team, which is why it’s critical to move beyond lip service and invest adequate resources and staff time to establishing goals, metrics, and accountability structures for these commitments.

MISTAKE #3. Business leaders fear asking their stakeholders about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

THE FIX: MEASURE WHAT MATTERS. Remember those old business mantras, “you can’t manage, what you don’t measure,” “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” etc.? When it comes to your LGBTQ inclusion commitments, these mantras apply. If you don’t have a baseline as to how many LGBTQ employees, customers, or suppliers are within your workplace ecosystem, you’ll find it incredibly difficult to establish strategic goals and benchmarks to improve the workplace climate for your LGBTQ stakeholders.

When I initially make the case for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) demographic questions in employee and customer surveys, my clients initially push back and share their fears about how their stakeholders would negatively react to such questions. The good news - the evidence available allays these concerns. In fact, the majority of audiences – including those who are LGBTQ – want you to ask, and they are willing to tell.

As you begin thinking about how to ask SOGI demographic questions, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Make sure your non-discrimination policies are inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity protections. Many LGBTQ stakeholders are less likely to share these aspects of their identities if your organization lacks such protections.                                                                                              
  • If demographic questions are asked by your staff, equip them with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to respectfully ask these questions. Staff should share with respondents how  their demographic information will be used, and why their responses are optional.                                                                                                              
  • Use the best practices available for how to ask these questions. The Williams Institute at UCLA and the Fenway Institute both offer helpful guides as to how to ask these questions.

MISTAKE #4: Business leaders fail to understand the true power of LGBTQ inclusion. 

THE FIX: KNOW THE LGBTQ BUSINESS CASE. Understanding the LGBTQ business case for inclusion requires continuous self-education, and the ability to carefully communicate this message to workplace champions and resistors alike. A few key points that will help win over more members on your leadership team to care about LGBTQ inclusion center around three key areas of the workplace ecosystem: 1) your people; 2) your customers, and; 3) your suppliers.

  1. Your People. Some of the biggest rewards of LGBTQ inclusion come from retention data with a full 26%, or 1 in four employees reporting staying in a job specifically because the workplace was inclusive, and had strong nondiscrimination policies on the books.                                                                                                                            
  2. Your Customers. LGBTQ people make up about between 7-10% of US adults, and the combined annual purchasing power of this community nears $1 trillion ($917 billion). LGBTQ consumers are 75% more likely to switch to brands known for LGBTQ inclusion, and they are more likely to go out of their way or pay more to access these brands than non-LGBTQ people.                                                                                                                                                        
  3. Your Suppliers. In the US alone, there are 1.4 million LGBTQ owned businesses contributing nearly $2 trillion to the US economy, and they generate about 33,000 jobs. If you’re interested in marketing to LGBTQ consumers, hiring one of these LGBTQ owned businesses specializing in organizational branding will inform your marketing strategies, and give you the competitive edge necessary to attract LGBTQ consumers.

MISTAKE #5: Business leaders falsely believe one action (usually a workplace training) will transform their organization’s culture.

THE FIX: TAKE A HOLISTIC APPROACH. Say it with me. Training is not a panacea. While ongoing workplace training and other learning and development opportunities are an important part of your LGBTQ inclusion efforts, they must be a part of your broader DEI commitment, and should be sequenced appropriately with these other actions. Taking a holistic approach to weaving LGBTQ inclusion into these broader efforts requires a true commitment from your leadership team.

Your leadership team will first need to unpack why this work matters, and come up with a DEI commitment inclusive of LGBTQ stakeholders. They must then set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) inclusion goals. Identifying organizational policies, systems, and practices will inform the specific work that must be undertaken. Lastly, it’s important to communicate the LGBTQ inclusion commitment within and beyond the organization.


Making a sincere commitment to including LGBTQ stakeholders into your broader DEI goals comes with significant rewards. Getting the support you need to avoid these five common mistakes involves knowing where to access proven strategies, case studies, and expert advice. If you’re struggling with getting started, or are seeking support to double-down on existing commitments, consider reaching out to me, and let’s discuss what’s possible.


Rhodes Perry

Rhodes Perry is a nationally recognized expert on LGBTQ and social justice public policy matters, with two decades of leadership experience innovating strategy management, policy and program solutions for corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. At his core, Rhodes is an entrepreneur, where he most recently established Rhodes Perry Consulting, LLC, a national diversity and inclusion consulting firm that uses an intersectional approach to collaborate with leaders on creating solutions in the practice areas of strategy management, issue advocacy, and stakeholder engagement. Previously, Rhodes founded the Office of LGBTQ Policy & Practice at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, and prior to this assignment he served as the founding Director of Policy at PFLAG National where he led the policy strategy and advocacy efforts for the organization’s 350 chapters. He cut his teeth serving as a Program Examiner at the White House Office of Management & Budget, where he improved upon federal benefit programs designed to provide assistance to low-income communities. Rhodes earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Gender Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and obtained a Master of Public Administration from New York University.