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Why organizational mentorship programs are essential for LGBTQ+ inclusion and allyship

Updated: Jun 7


pride progress flag LGBTQ+

Mentorship programs are one of the most effective tools for driving organizational inclusion and allyship programs for all communities, including with LGBTQ+ groups. While many programs to promote inclusion and allyship are well-intentioned, they are often short-lived, more performative than effective, have low impact, and even lower ROI. 


Inclusion and allyship are not luxuries for business – they are essential in order to foster positive work environments made up of people who reflect the world around us. Organizations without a strong commitment to both inclusion and allyship could also suffer from increased turnover due to greater employee dissatisfaction, or run the risk of legal and reputational damage associated with discrimination or exclusionary practices.


With mentorship programs, organizations can leverage existing human capital – your current employees and community members – to improve your people culture and drive lasting organizational change that improves productivity and profits, all while reinforcing commitments to inclusion and allyship. 


In this article, we review: 


Challenges for the LGBTQ+ workforce

Members of every minority community face unique challenges in day-to-day life, including in the organizations they are a part of and in their workplace. Though societies around the world are becoming more and more inclusive, LGBTQ+ people are still confronted with obstacles because of their identities and experiences that can inhibit personal and professional growth, despite perceived advances towards equity.


Before the 2020 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, LGBTQ+ could be fired based upon aspects of their identity that they cannot change. As of 2024, 81 countries provide protections for LGBTQ+ workers, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Source).


Determining the size of the LGBTQ+ population in general has historically been difficult because this data was not included in censuses. However, LGBTQ+ people, and workers in particular, are often counted through surveys that ask only about same-sex relationships, which is not an indicator of all members of the community at large. As a result, estimates vary drastically by country, and are likely inaccurate. 


Data is also difficult to collect because many LGBTQ+ workers do not feel they can be their authentic selves. In fact, 50% of all LGBTQ+ workers in the U.S. are not out to their supervisors, and 25% are not out to anyone in the workplace (Source). Current available data estimates that LGBTQ+ workers make up 7.2% of the U.S. workforce, 3.1% of the UK workforce, and 4% of the Canadian workforce (Source).


Transgender workers, especially of color, face the greatest challenges in the workplace. Two data points that clearly show the disparity in challenges among transgender people and the greater LGBTQ+ community are regarding workplace benefits and non-discrimination policies at Fortune 500 companies. While 93% have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, only 66% include transgender-inclusive benefits (Source).


Pay inequality

Nothing speaks louder than dollars and cents. For every $1 earned by the “typical” worker, LGBTQ+ workers earn $0.89, while non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid and Two Spirit workers earn $0.70, and transgender women earn $0.60.

Graph showing wage gap with LGBTQ employeeseees, non-binary employees, and trasnger employees

Higher Poverty Rates

LGBTQ+ households are more likely to experience poverty than non-LGBTQ+ counterparts, and LGBTQ+ people of color and transgender individuals are even more at risk (Source).


Limited employment opportunities

LGBTQ+ people, because of historic discrimination, have often been restricted from working in certain industries, or conversely have gravitated towards particularly accepting of their communities despite general societal intolerance. Historically, LGBTQ+ people have been denied federal government jobs, benefits, insurance, protections, and equitable protections that others enjoy.


While data capture about gender identity and sexuality across industries is sparse, we do know that LGBTQ+ are on average twice as likely to work in food and beverage, with LGBTQ+ people of color more than twice as likely and white LGBTQ+ just under twice as likely to work in food and beverage stores than white, non-LGBTQ+ counterparts (Source). 


Workplace Discrimination

In the U.K. 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ people have experienced workplace discrimination, and the U.S. the number is nearly 1 in 4. For BIPOC, the risk of discrimination is even great: In the U.S., nearly 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ workers of color have experienced discrimination (Source).


Employees leave unsupportive cultures

Everyone wants to feel supported in the workplace, and 36% of LGBTQ+ individuals choose their workplace based on past discriminatory experiences or the fear of facing discrimination. Because of an unwelcoming work environment for LGBTQ+ people, 34.2% of LGBTQ+ employees have either left a job or searched for other employment (33.9%) (Source).


Difficulty getting hired

Prior to 2020, U.S. workers were not protected from work-place discrimination based upon gender identity or sexual orientation. As a result, LGBTQ+ workers, especially for transgender people, have been historically restricted from entering many industries or professions. Today, even though many countries have work-place protections to prohibit discrimination based upon sexuality and gender identity, biases persist during hiring processes that prevent LGBTQ+ workers from securing roles they need to advance their careers.


Difficulty maintaining employment

One of the leading indicators for the job market is the number of weekly filings for unemployment insurance. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to use unemployment insurance, meaning that they are more likely to lose their jobs involuntarily (Source).


Barriers to career growth

With barriers to entering the workforce and maintaining employment, LGBTQ+ workers also face troubles with career advancement. It’s particularly telling that only 4 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are openly LGBTQ+ (Source). Only 0.4% board seats in the Fortune 500 are held by openly LGBTQ+ directors (Source), and only 2 of those 5,670 board seats are held by LGBTQ+ people of color (Source).


Difficulties in career advancement multiply when people experience multiple forms of difference in race, gender identity, or sexuality. For example, femme-identifying LGBTQ+ people and LGBTQ+ people of color experience more challenges when trying to advance their careers, with trans women of color facing the most obstacles of any subcommunity.


Covering and code switching

When employees do not feel like they can be their authentic selves in the workplace, they often adapt or assimilate. LGBTQ+ employees often cover behaviors or code switch in order to better fit in. For example, 37.3% of LGBTQ+ employees said they changed the way they present themselves at work in order to draw less attention to themselves and better assimilate to work culture, including altering their physical appearance, how they dress, and their voice or mannerisms (Source). Transgender employees are more likely to cover (57.7%) compared to their cisgender LGBTQ+ counterparts (39.0%) (Source).


Fears of discrimination and responding by covering and code switching is understandable. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ workers have been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress differently, and 53% of LGBTQ+ workers report hearing jokes about LGBTQ+ people at work (Source).


Increased stress from “onlyness”

McKinsey & Company has shown that when employees are the only person on a team or in a meeting of their particular race, gender, or sexual identity, that stress increases due to feelings of “otherness” or “onlyness.” When employees feel onlyness because of multiple aspects of their identity, they feel even more pressure to perform. For example, LGBTQ+ women of color have reported feeling increased onlyness, as well as increased difficulty in the workplace and with career advancement because they experience difference, and as a result, prejudice, in several ways (Source).


How can mentorship drive inclusion and allyship

Organizations lower overall productivity and productivity when they do not create a people culture where employees feel like they can show up to work and be their authentic selves.


According to career expert Vicki Salemi, one of the most important ways to establish inclusion and allyship is for organizations to establish open communication so that workers feel seen, safe and heard, and then – and most importantly – to take action based on feedback.

"Things don't change overnight; it's a consistent, intentional effort,” Salemi said. “We should be talking about it and putting action steps in place beyond June [Pride Month],” she continued. “It's important for companies to think about what works for their culture and be methodical, and most importantly, respectful of everyone" (Source).

While many inclusion and allyship efforts are short-lived, one-off events, or performative at best, mentorship provides infrastructure for deep communication that creates lasting, systemic change to make organizations more diverse, equity, and inclusive for LGBTQ+ members and people of all backgrounds. Increase job satisfaction

Inclusive environments significantly improve the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ employees by reducing the stress and anxiety associated with discrimination and marginalization. Employees who feel valued and supported are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, leading to higher morale and loyalty. 91% of people who have a mentor are satisfied with their jobs, with 57% saying they are “very satisfied.”  (Source)

Increase productivity

When employees feel accepted and valued, they are more engaged and productive, contributing to the overall success of the organization. 70% of businesses increased productivity through mentoring (Source)


Attract top talent, reduce involuntary attrition

Inclusive workplaces are more likely to retain LGBTQ+ talent, reducing turnover and the associated costs of hiring and training new employees. Companies known for their inclusive practices attract a diverse pool of applicants, including top talent who value diversity and inclusion.


Improve People Culture

Mentorship programs allow LGBTQ+ employees to connect with and be role models and allies, fostering a culture of acceptance and support. They also demonstrates an organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion, encouraging a more inclusive and respectful workplace culture.


Reduce the Experience of Otherness

Regular interaction among mentees and mentors can help LGBTQ+ employees feel less isolated and more integrated into the workplace community, fostering a sense of community and belonging, and reducing the feeling of otherness among LGBTQ+ employees.


Create Structural Support

Establishing formal mentorship structures provides clear support mechanisms for LGBTQ+ employees, creating a reliable support system for those that need them most. Everyone’s story is different, and so is what they need to do their best to contribute to an organization. Program participants can provide personalized guidance and support, helping LGBTQ+ employees navigate the workplace more effectively, and helping workplaces become more inclusive through constructive dialogue.


Create Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Mentorship programs can be tailored in an infinite number of ways to fit the needs of every participant and organization. Programs can also include subcommunities of mentors and mentees that form Employee Resource Groups or affinity groups to provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ employees and allies to connect, share experiences, and advocate for their needs.


Resources and Training

Mentorship programs can include training on LGBTQ+ issues, ensuring mentors are equipped to provide meaningful support. For example, mentorship programs can educate employees about the importance of inclusive language and how to use it appropriately. Program participants can explore and model the use of inclusive language, setting a standard for others to follow.


Create Open Dialogue

Mentorship relationships create spaces for LGBTQ+ employees to discuss their experiences and challenges without fear of judgment or reprisal. Encourage ongoing conversations about diversity, inclusion, and personal experiences, fostering a more open and communicative workplace.



Visibility and Representation

Promotes visibility of LGBTQ+ employees in various roles, enhancing overall inclusivity in the organization. This is especially important for members of the LGBTQ+ community who experience more than one form of otherness because of aspects of their identity such as race, gender identity, or religion.


Feedback and Advocacy

Mentors can gather feedback from LGBTQ+ mentees about existing policies and advocate for necessary changes. Informed mentors and mentees can contribute to the development and refinement of inclusive workplace policies


Expand Equity

Ensure LGBTQ+ employees have equitable access to opportunities for growth and development through mentorship, and that organizations can grow through essential feedback they receive from program participants. Mentors and mentees can identify and address barriers to equity, advocating for changes that benefit LGBTQ+ employees. Expand Mutual Understanding

Mentorship allows for the sharing of diverse perspectives, fostering mutual understanding and empathy between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ employees. These relationships also facilitate cultural exchange and learning, breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions. Customer Understanding and Market Research Diverse Insights LGBTQ+ program participants can provide insights into the LGBTQ+ market, helping the company better understand and serve LGBTQ+ customers, and encouraging the development of inclusive marketing strategies that resonate with a diverse customer base.


Legal Compliance and Ethical Responsibility

Mentorship programs can include training on legal rights and ethical responsibilities related to LGBTQ+ issues, and help ensure that both mentors and mentees are aware of and adhere to legal and ethical standards, promoting compliance.


Risk Mitigation and Reputation Management

Mentorship programs can proactively address issues before they escalate, reducing risks associated with discrimination or harassment, demonstrating the organization's commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion, and enhancing its reputation as an inclusive employer.


Career Growth Skill Development

Mentorship can help LGBTQ+ employees develop the skills and confidence needed for career advancement, particularly those who may not have had access to certain kinds of training or education that could benefit them in their roles. Because mentorship relies on existing human capital for knowledge transfer, employees can upskill at no additional cost to the organization.


Networking

Organizational mentorship programs provide networking opportunities that can lead to career growth and development for those who have had barriers to access because of aspects of their identity, as is the case with some members of the LGBTQ+ community. 


Build your inclusion and allyship program with Upnotch


Upnotch™ is the leading platform for professionals to advance their careers and for organizations to optimize. Through the power of mentorship, Upnotch™ connects leaders and builds the leaders of tomorrow. And to make the power of mentorship accessible to those who need it most, Upnotch™ is available for all professionals to join.


For organizations, Upnotch™ provides the most sustainable, impactful, long-term solutions to foster inclusion and allyship. While other diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are often high-effort, low-impact, and low ROI, mentorship leverages existing human capital to build a self-sustaining ecosystem of open dialogue and proactive change within your organization.


Join Upnotch™ for FREE or contact us to start optimizing your organization for inclusion and allyship with Upnotch™ today.



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