5 ways to become an LGBT+ inclusive business

Dale McDermott, COO of CLGCC
Dale McDermott, COO of Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC).

A public outpouring of support for the LGBT+ community during Pride Month doesn’t necessarily translate to professional acceptance in the workplace.

In a new report released by Deloitte and Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC), LGBT+ employers say they face barriers, discrimination and underrepresentation in corporate and public supply chains.

Though the 100,000 Canadian LGBT+ owned, operated and controlled companies represent at least $5 billion in corporate revenues, over 41% LGBT+ founded or owned small businesses identified challenges acquiring funding and financing and 33% the inability to access mentorship opportunities that are often cited as structural barriers to entrepreneurship in Canada.

20% of respondents also stated they faced challenges scaling their businesses as a result of being part of the LGBT+ community, while 25% said that LGBT+ ownership resulted in a loss of opportunities for their company to some extent.

And the report noted that 54% of organizations don’t have any commitments, strategies or initiatives to increase diversity within their staff or leadership team, and 21% of respondents had difficulties networking within their sector.

According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 46% of LGBT+ individuals are closeted at work and 28% are totally closeted, 25% to 75% of LGBT employees encounter discrimination in the workplace, including lack of trust, damaging promotional opportunities and difficulty in proving discrimination, while less than 0.5% of Fortune 500 CEOS are LGBT.

The CGLCC is advocating for change. Established in 2003, it links LGBT+ businesses in Canada to the wider business community and provides direction for corporations looking to build strong, equal, inclusive and diverse workplace cultures.

Dale McDermott, Chief Operating Officer for the CGLCC, says we need to face what’s staring us in the face. “The reality is that discrimination is very prevalent. It is there and it’s preventing our members from reaching their full potential. It’s our job to be their voice.”

Corporations who want to help advance inclusion and LGBT rights can become active allies in several ways, according to McDermott.

Diversifying supply chains

“We find many underrepresented members of the business population are not having a fair shot at competing for lucrative contracts. And when you have corporations spending tens of millions of dollars a year, when they dedicate a portion of their annual spend to supporting diversity and inclusion, that has an economic ripple effect.”

Better access to capital

“We know LGBT+ self-identified businesses struggle to raise financing. Only one percent of US venture capital deals actually go to LGBT+ founders. And it’s very similar as for women as well – only two percent of all venture capital last year went to female founders. So our message as we look to recover from COVID-19 is to ask investors to be more mindful of including LGBT+ businesses in their portfolios.”

An HR policy that supports and includes the LGBT+ community

“As business recovers from the pandemic, the unemployment rate is high. And as we look to reopen, we have an opportunity to ensuring that hiring practices reach and encourage diversity. Be pro-active in ensuring those job listings are posted in a way that the LGBT+ community knows they are invited and encouraged.”

Lead by example

“We can’t tell you how important it is for corporations to hire LGBT+ leaders, and how important it is that senior employees identify themselves when they are from the LGBT+ community. Showing leadership, reflecting LGBT+ inclusion in your mission statements and HR policies, your language … everything counts. It’s a company’s responsibility to set their employees up for success, and having access to the relevant training and language is important as well.”

Learn from the experts

The CGLCC launched its Rainbow Registered accreditation program in June. It helps consumers and prospective employees to more easily identify LGBT+ friendly businesses across Canada, and businesses demonstrate their commitment and consistent efforts to provide a welcome and accepting experience through progressive policies and practices.

The program sets a rigorous set of standards that companies must meet before earning the Rainbow Registered mark and the benefits that go along with it, focusing on four key areas: policies and practices, training, commitment to inclusive leadership and a culture of inclusivity.

“It’s a way for businesses to ensure they are as safe and accommodating of a space as possible,” says McDermott, who notes they’ve seen strong uptake and interest.

Government support is crucial

The CGLCC recently held its eighth annual LGBT+ Global Business Summit with more than 800 LGBT+ businesses, suppliers, corporate and government attendees representing 20 countries. McDermott said for him, this year represented a tangible showing of support from the Canadian government; support, he says, is essential in supporting acceptance and helping end discrimination.

“The government is probably the biggest procurer of goods and services in Canada, with about $22 billion spent on procurement. We’ve been calling on them to develop an inclusive procurement strategy. I do think the government intends to move forward with this.”

McDermott says despite the challenges LGBT+ businesses face, attendance by senior management of large corporations and government at their conference gives him tremendous hope that positive change is afoot. “It’s inspiring to witness, and it’s inspiring for our members to see that people do want to engage; they do want to enact the change that is needed.”

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