Can I be myself? Can I be visible? Will I be accepted? If your lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees are able to...

by Tisa Jackson

Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion
Union Bank

Can I be myself? Can I be visible? Will I be accepted? If your lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees are able to answer “yes” to all these questions when they think about their workplace, you are on the right track. Although we’re seeing progress toward greater inclusiveness in corporate America, many companies have a long way to go to fully recognize and leverage the power of their LGBT employees and the potential of this important market.

One way to assess how well your company is doing is to look at the criteria for the annual Human Rights Campaign (HRC) “Best Places to Work” list based on LGBT equality. The HRC’s Corporate Equality Index recognizes companies that take a comprehensive approach to inclusion of LGBT employees. This means including sexual orientation and gender identity in nondiscrimination policies and diversity training programs; offering domestic partner and transgender benefits; supporting the LGBT community outside the company through sponsorships and strategic corporate philanthropy; and providing internal support through an inclusive diversity council or LGBT employee group.

Measures such as these make a strong statement about a company’s commitment to diversity, while recognizing LGBT employees as a valuable resource with the power to make an important contribution to business success. For example, these employees can:

  • Lead or participate in educational meetings and programs to foster greater understanding of the LGBT community among management and employees.
  • Point you toward the right organizations and networks to connect with as you recruit talent from this community.
  • Help you develop culturally competent campaigns that reflect the values, needs and expectations of LGBT consumers.

Your LGBT employees can offer insights that will enable your company to tap into a market whose spending power in the U.S. is estimated to be as high as $712 billion—and growing.

These consumers tend to be highly educated and have a higher level of disposable income than other segments, and they are known to be brand-loyal. According to Harris Interactive, a well known market research firm, 69 percent choose to do business with companies that are actively involved in community outreach to support the LGBT community, and 55 percent prefer to do business with companies that have diversity initiatives promoting greater understanding and inclusion of this group.

A crucial step toward leveraging the power of your LGBT employees is developing and demonstrating an understanding of the concerns and issues that are important to them. For example, there is greater diversity within this group than meets the eye. Whenever you take a one-size-fits-all approach to any community, you fall short and run the risk of excluding them, jeopardizing your brand, and ultimately losing business.

One of the most effective ways to leverage this powerful employee base is by forming an Employee Resource Group (ERG). An ERG gives LGBT employees and straight alliances a way of connecting with each other, while respectfully and appropriately utilizing all talent. It can serve as a focus group and a source of knowledge about this consumer segment, and act as a place to test marketing strategies, identify new products and services, enhance existing products and services, and help improve processes.

Take the time to proactively build your cultural competency and learn about the challenges facing transgender, as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual, employees, so you can help educate others within your company and promote greater workforce, workplace, and marketplace inclusion. No one should feel invisible!

Tisa Jackson, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for Union Bank, N.A., has more than 13 years of experience in this field, as well as strategic human resources management, community development and organizational development. She is founder of the Professional & Technical Diversity Network (PTDN) of Greater Los Angeles, a diversity consortium comprised of companies committed to diversity and inclusion. Union Bank, N.A., is a full-service commercial bank providing an array of financial services to individuals, small businesses, middle-market companies, and major corporations. As of May 10, 2010, the bank had 397 banking offices in California, Oregon, Washington and Texas and two international offices. UnionBanCal Corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd., which is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. Union Bank is a proud member of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG, NYSE:MTU), one of the world’s largest financial organizations. Visit www.unionbank.com for more information

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