May 20, 2021

LGBT Inclusion in Small Businesses

When we began our Incorporating Inclusion initiative two years ago, our focus was to determine what businesses needed to engage in more LGBT-inclusive workplace practices and policies. To pursue that, we talked to representatives from over 70 large companies—including CEOs and executives in charge of Diversity, Human Resources, Legal Affairs, Affinity Groups, and Community Engagement. Our goal was to go beyond the economic rationale for inclusion, to look at how inclusion strengthened businesses as an institution.  

We learned a lot from those conversations and talked about it at length in our previous report, Business Success and Growth Through LGBT-Inclusive Culture. Those findings are summarized here: 

  • Almost all the companies in the research have formal policies for non-discrimination and equal benefits coverage, but there are a variety of other LGBT-inclusive practices that companies are starting to implement, including LGBT awareness trainings, management metrics, and broadening the definition of ‘family leave’ to encompass LGBT inclusion. 
  • Companies embrace LGBT inclusion to cultivate a corporate culture that attracts and retains the best talent. In turn, companies are able to better address internal challenges of LGBT employee engagement and cultivate strong partnerships within and outside the organization.  
  • To communicate their LGBT-inclusive practices internally and externally, companies need a formal foundation upon which they can build. Companies with an established structure experience an improved and accelerated ability to communicate to employees and drastically improves the authenticity of the company’s external LGBT efforts. 
  • Supporting the broader LGBT community is important for companies who engage in internal policies—matching inside efforts to outside efforts is paramount to authenticity to both groups of stakeholders. That support can come publicly, including signing onto amicus briefs, writing national-level op-eds, and leveraging more local activity such as supporting cultural events, fundraisers, and NGOs. It can also come more privately, including educating policymakers on the positive benefits of LGBT inclusion, or, occasionally, making a business decision to leave an area that will not reconsider anti-LGBT policies. 

After conducting our research on larger businesses, we held forums in Northern Virginia, Columbus, OH, and Orlando, FL. Those forums were held in conjunction with a number of local partners, and allowed us to share not only our findings, but best practices, challenges, and learnings that were location-specific. 

Our partnership with the local chambers in organizing these regional forums opened up the conversation to smaller businesses. While we understood that the needs of smaller businesses were certainly different, it was not until panels and informal conversations with smaller employers that really brought into focus just how different their needs were.  

Throughout those forums, our conversation began to shift. While we did not, at the time, have systematic or quantitative evidence of how small businesses engaged with LGBT inclusionary policies, we did know the importance of small businesses to local communities and the nation. With that in mind, we made some shifts in the immediate term to respond to that need.  

When that round of programming wrapped in Fall 2019, we looked ahead to a greater focus on small business in our next iteration. Based on what we had heard at our forums and what we knew about small businesses already, we realized two things: 

  • Small businesses are a majority of where Americans works—if we want to reach employers, we need to focus on those with fewer than 250 employees, which constitute 99.3% of all employers in the U.S.
  • Small businesses enter and exit the market much more frequently than larger ones, and their number of employees frequently changes. Small businesses need the most help in determining how to pursue inclusionary practices and policies. 

These findings drove our decision to shift more formally to a focus on smaller businesses in 2020.  

While we continued to concentrate on LGBT inclusivity in the workplace, we started to put that in the broader context of other efforts for workplace inclusivity and equality. Most of the larger companies we researched in 2019 had undertaken LGBT-specific programming because they had the bandwidth and personnel to lead such programming. Smaller companies generally do not, and therefore consider the issues of inclusivity more broadly.

Business Needs for Inclusivity in 2020

Inclusivity Themes for Small Businesses