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What Makes a Queer-Friendly Workplace? 6 Things to Look for in Your Job Search

Thanks to a 2020 Supreme Court ruling, organizations cannot discriminate against employees based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

But there’s a world of difference between tolerance –– they can’t kick us out –– and acceptance, where we’re welcomed for our uniqueness. 

Pandemic pressures have only exacerbated workplace stressors for all of us. LGBTQ employees increasingly say they feel isolated on the job, are stressed about performance reviews, and have concerns about losing ground to their peers, corporate consulting firm McKinsey reports. 

Regardless of how we identify, we do our best work when we can bring our full selves to work. We shouldn’t need to compartmentalize or dim our light. But finding the right work environment –– where we feel accepted and our contributions are welcomed –– is tricky. 

This checklist will help you gauge whether a workplace is really LGBTQ friendly.  

1. Inclusive job application 

Inclusivity starts in the hiring process! Companies that require job applicants to tick F or M on the application form signal to trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming applicants that they literally have to fit a box to get hired. 

Trans employees may face additional hurdles in the application stage, especially if you go by a name that doesn’t match your legal I.D. You may be unsure how to handle the application or worried about listing references who know you by a different name. 

In the application process, it’s generally acceptable to use your chosen name in the cover letter, resume and paperwork. If neopronouns are part of your identity, you can put them in your email signature or on your resume. 

For official paperwork and tax forms, however, you’ll need to use your legal name. The National Center for Transgender Equality offers state-by-state resources on navigating name changes on official IDs, if you’re working through that process. 

2. Gender-neutral bathrooms 

Everyone’s gotta go… and everyone should be comfortable using the bathroom that correlates to their identity. As SHRM explains, gender-neutral bathrooms send a clear signal that a workplace is committed to making all employees feel welcome.  

3. Expansive dress codes 

Employees who don’t feel comfortable prescribing to gender norms often feel like they have to put on drag to look the part. If supervisors feel their choice of clothing, accessories, makeup or hairstyle isn’t “appropriate,” these employees may be penalized. 

Traditional ideas of business professional attire reinforce gender normativity, racial bias and sexism. They can feel stifling or dysphoric for queer folks. 

Inclusive workplaces should understand the ways an employee’s gender identity, race, culture, and other aspects of identity impact their aesthetic choices and make allowances that not only accept but celebrate sartorial diversity.

While you may not get the official dress code policy until you’ve been hired and given an employee handbook, you’ll be able to evaluate the corporate style if you go in for an interview. 

4. Perfect CEI score

Every year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) puts out an annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which ranks companies on their LGBTQ-friendliness. 

The 767 companies that scored 100 on this year’s index met all of HRC’s criteria for equality and inclusion. They are seen as the best places to work from an LGBTQ equality perspective. 

Organizations are scored on criteria like workplace protections, inclusivity of health insurance plans, commitment to workplace diversity, and outreach to LGBTQ communities through philanthropy, recruitment, hiring or advocacy work. This index is updated annually, so you can rely on it to track the metrics that matter to queer people right now. 

The CEI index is limited to private, for-profit companies with more than 500 employees, so a progressive nonprofit or small business won’t be listed. That said, it’s a great way to evaluate large companies on the depth of their LGBTQ inclusion.

5. Queer-inclusive benefits 

Employer-sponsored health insurance plans may not cover LGBTQ health needs. 

Health insurers discriminate against LGBTQ people in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. 

Trans-inclusive health coverage varies by state and insurer. Presently, 22 states have anti-trans bans on medical care, according to Freedom For All Americans. These bans limit the type of medically necessary care trans individuals can access without paying out-of-pocket. 

Fertility coverage often excludes LGBTQ folks. Medically, “infertility” is defined by insurers as for opposite-sex couples only. To get coverage, you must demonstrate that you were actively trying to get pregnant for a set period of time. 

While some states have passed laws designed to reduce the financial burden of LGBTQ family planning, these laws are imperfect, as NBC News reports. IVF treatments are covered for lesbian couples, but not for gay men, for example. 

Parsing insurance coverage and exclusion can be headache-inducing. Policies are written in dense language. 

HRC’s guide to transgender-related healthcare and Forward Together’s guide for LGBTQ people on choosing health plans can help you understand coverage options. 

6. Year-round advocacy and outreach 

Come June, companies fall all over themselves to perform allyship in hopes of getting a share of our hard-earned queer dollars. Truly inclusive companies don’t exclusively profit off us, however. They have our backs year-round. 

Inclusive companies won’t be afraid to speak out on issues of equality. They’ll sign statements in support of queer causes and donate time or money. When it comes to outreach and allyship, they’ll bring receipts.

How to actually check queer inclusiveness 

DEI might be the buzzword of the year, but inclusion varies widely from one company to another. So you’ll want to do some due diligence to protect yourself. 

Start researching online, then use interviews (remote or in-person) as a chance to confirm initial research and evaluate fit. 

Before the interview: online research 

There are a few easy ways to check inclusivity during the company research and job application phase. 

If the company is large enough to rank, you can always check their CEI score.

Employee review sites like Glassdoor offer a behind-the-scenes glance at company culture. But be warned: Those who dish on a former workplace online tend to really love or really hate the place, not represent the average experience. 

Search the website or company blog for queer-friendly terms –– words like LGBTQ, queer, trans and Pride. The easiest way to do this is to type in your search term, then “site:” followed by the company’s website. 

For example: To search for “trans” on Ben & Jerry’s website, you’d type “trans site:benjerry.com.” 

Social media is often a goldmine. You’ll be able to tell if a company cares about the community in June versus all year round by searching for the same terms. 

Facebook and Twitter have advanced search features that can help you gauge the company’s level of allyship. Instagram is harder to search, but you can check the company’s stories for LGBTQ themes or scroll through content for queer-friendly images or quote cards. 

If a company is outspoken about equality, you’ll find lots of website and social media references to LGBTQ terms. 

During the interview: visual markers, body language and targeted questions

In-person job interviews let you peer behind the curtain to see what it’s really like to work at a company. Do cars in the parking lot have Pride-themed bumper stickers? Are the bathrooms binary gender only? Is someone making assumptions on your pronouns? 

Visual cues like these are harder to glean from a remote interview –– and given the current climate, that might be all you’re offered. 

Over Zoom, you can get an idea for what the company culture is really like through things like clothing, personal style and remote work environments. Even a Zoom backdrop has vibes! 

As the interview concludes, you have a chance to ask questions about what it’s really like to work there. Rather than ask about the company culture, which can get a canned response, dig deeper. Ask questions like:

  • How does the company act in alignment with its values? 
  • What three adjectives would you use to describe company culture? 
  • What are some things employees do to fit in? 
  • What is your favorite part about working here?

Bring your full self to work

The right job for you is one where you can bring your full self. That may be in an organization that’s already done its diversity, equity and inclusion work and earned that perfect 100 CEI score. 

Or it might be at a place that knows it needs to be more welcoming and isn’t sure how to get there… but displays a willingness to do the work and is eager to learn from you.

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