Listening to Small Employers

During our programmatic work in 2018 and 2019, we had the opportunity to talk to and work with some small and midsized business owners (less than approximately 250 employees) through our regional events.  

We heard from small business owners that they were getting questions from large companies in their value chain about how inclusive they were and they were not sure how to answer them. 

We heard from small businesses that were led by those in the LGBT community and had a strong personal attachment to LGBT inclusion in their workplaces, were proud of what they were doing, and wanted to evolve and codify it as their companies grew. 

We heard from small business owners who had gone far in their diversity measures and had “checked the boxes” of having non-discrimination policies, supporting LGBT cultural events, and attracting LGBT talent, but were struggling with the “inclusive” part of it. 

We heard from business owners who were proud of the inclusive cultures they had fostered, but when they began the process of going public or scaling their operations further, found they were unprepared to present those efforts in a way that satisfied potential investors.  

We then decided to conduct focus groups with small business owners—to dig deeper into their approach to LGBT-inclusion, and the challenges and opportunities they’re facing. The needs and experiences of large businesses when it comes to general and LGBT inclusivity are relatively well-understood, but those of small businesses are not. 

Between in-person and virtual events, we conducted interviews and focus groups with more than 60 small businesses employers and their associations in places as diverse as: 

  • Columbus, Ohio 
  • Denver, Colorado 
  • Jacksonville, Florida 
  • Washington, DC 
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan 
  • Carrboro, North Carolina 
  • Phoenix, Arizona 

From those conversations, we found eight themes that repeated across those businesses and cities.