Despite visible signs of progress, workplace challenges persist for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Here’s what companies can do to help their LGBTQ+ employees bring their authentic selves to work.
In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast, Diane Brady speaks with McKinsey senior partner Diana Ellsworth and Maital Guttman, senior manager of diversity and inclusion, about the unique challenges that members of the LGBTQ+ community face in the workplace. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.
Diane Brady: Hello, and welcome to the McKinsey Podcast, I’m Diane Brady. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March in New York City, where a historic police raid at the Stonewall Inn sparked riots a year earlier. A lot has changed for people in the LGBTQ+ community. The US Supreme Court has upheld the right to marry a same-sex partner and, most recently, to be protected against discrimination at work.1 But courts don’t create an inclusive work culture, companies do. More important, people do. And on that front, the McKinsey Quarterly has just published a global study about the unique challenges that LGBTQ+ employees still face. I’m joined by two colleagues who helped to lead this global study. Diana Ellsworth is a partner in the Atlanta office, where Maital Guttman is a senior manager of Diversity and Inclusion. Diana and Maital, welcome. Diana, tell us a little more about the study.
Diana Ellsworth: Thanks, Diane. As you mentioned, we’ve seen a lot of movement in the US and around the world in recent years related to the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. A lot of steps forward, in some cases some steps backward—but we know that this community is underrepresented still in organizations. And particularly in leadership levels of organizations.
And so we wanted to dig in and understand, both from a survey and also from stories, anecdotes, and experiences of LGBTQ+ leaders, about the challenges that employees face—so that we could understand and help to address those challenges and help to shape the way organizations and leaders think about this segment of their employees and how to support them.
Diane Brady: Maital, what stood out for you? I mean, one thing that’s interesting is not everybody necessarily comes out at work, do they?
Maital Guttman: In fact, we found that only about one in four LGBTQ+ of our respondents are not broadly out at work. Even though there is more visibility, more conversation, and more and more people identifying as LGBTQ+, we’re seeing that in the workplace—especially for younger colleagues, junior colleagues, women, and people outside of the US and Europe—that they are less likely to be out at work.
Diane Brady: It’s interesting, because the younger generation, I would’ve thought, would be more open about that. Is that just, to some extent, your place on the ladder?
Maital Guttman: We think so. That’s part of what it is when you are joining a workplace, you’re still trying to navigate—even if they have all the right policies in place—you’re still trying to navigate how you bring your authentic self to work.
And so you look around at senior leadership. You look around at your managers. You look for the visible cues, in your office or with your clients, about how much you can be out and how open.
And unfortunately, what we found is that people are still too often the “only.” They’re the only LGBTQ+ person on their team or at their clients. And they are still more likely to experience microaggressions. They’re still more likely to hear derogatory remarks or have to correct people’s assumptions about their personal lives.
Listen to the full podcast here.