Wes Combs


September 19, 2022


Inclusion as an intentional act was a recurring theme at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s recent regional forum in Charlotte, NC, hosted as part of its Incorporating Inclusion research and education initiative. Held in partnership with the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, the event brought together local business leaders from organizations large and small who shared steps in their journey to create more LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces.

The morning kicked off with an in-depth overview of Novant Health’s approach to embedding inclusive practices in talent acquisition and retention as well as patient service delivery. As the person responsible for ensuring Novant Health delivers on its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity, Senior Director Regina Fambrough explained the importance of understanding who LGBTQ people are as the foundation for everything they do.

With survey data showing more than one-third of LGBT+ people report having at least one negative interaction with their healthcare provider, Novant Health offers training and education to ensure that 350 physician practices and 15 hospitals in North Carolina are capable of delivering LGBTQ culturally-sensitive care. Patients can even search their database for physicians who possess LGBTQ experience.

Building on this example, conversations at the event dug deeper into lessons learned during a discussion with diversity and inclusion leaders from larger employers in the Charlotte area.

Steven Johnson, global director of culture, diversity, and inclusion at home improvement retailer Lowe’s, talked about relying on data to inform the company’s inclusion strategy. To assess progress, Lowe’s implemented a voluntary self-ID survey of employees asking them about their sexual orientation and gender identity to establish a baseline of representation.

As more workers feel comfortable being out at work, companies like Duke Energy have launched voluntary employee resource groups (ERGs) usually organized around a shared identity, such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Lara Nichols, vice president, state and federal regulatory legal support, is a straight ally and executive sponsor of WeR1, the company’s LGBTQ ERG. The group helps educate all employees on LGBTQ terminology and what it means to be a good ally.

Shifting demographics and cultural norms constantly change the definition of an inclusive workplace. Attorney Amy Johnson is co-leader of the diversity committee at Charlotte-based Moore & Van Allen, and each year the law firm takes inclusion one step further. Annually, the diversity committee meets to set a plan by asking “what’s next” as it relates to LGBTQ benefits and policies, allowing them to be more proactive than reactive.

The small business panelists reinforced how getting smarter on LGBTQ issues reaps positive dividends down the road. When founder of The Ruby Slipper Restaurant Group, Jennifer Weishaupt, wanted to create a consistent positive experience for LGBTQ staff and customers, she sought advice from LGBTQ people who worked at her restaurants and were patrons.

“When you value diversity and have different voices in the room, it makes for a better organization”, she explained.

Jacob Virgil, director of strategic development at NoDa Brewing Company, shared that NoDa was initially afraid to take a public stance on LGBTQ issues as a new small business and received lots of negative backlash. NoDa leadership quickly realized, as a company that valued diversity, failing to take a position was not who they wanted to be – a company that highly regarded diversity but did not take a stand. They leaned in, sponsoring local pride events and hosting gatherings for LGBTQ organizations. Virgil also noted that being inclusive has positively impacted their bottom line.

Justin Taylor, stakeholder engagement manager with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, learned from a transgender employee that human resources denied a request for their chosen name to appear on the company ID badge. Part of Justin’s role is to help educate Goodwill staff on specific leading practice policies that accommodate someone who transitions on the job, and working together, name changes are now a standard process. The employee was grateful the organization took action.

If you are looking for tips on how to create a more inclusive workplace, visit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s LGBT Inclusion Hub for Small Businesses – an online platform that provides vital resources and tools small business owners can utilize to build productive, efficient LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces.

About the authors

Wes Combs