In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1964's Title VII protections extended to the LGBTQ community. It wasn't until April 2021 that the U.S. Department of Justice vowed to "vigorously enforce" this ruling, with special attention to anti-LGBTQ workplace policies. As the U.S. government re-committed to protecting LGBTQ folks, studies showed that centuries of disenfranchisement had taken their emotional toll and a bite out of LGBTQ workers' career progression.
A May 2021 audit of Glassdoor reviews found that gay and transgender workers rated their job experiences lower than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Likewise, 31% of LGBTQ respondents in a June 2021 LinkedIn report said they face blatant discrimination and/or microaggressions in the workplace.
Further, 24% of respondents said they weren't out at work, 30% of respondents said their workplace lacked community and belonging, and 32% of LGBTQ respondents said they work at companies without LGBTQ employee resources. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Through her LinkedIn Learning course, "Succeeding as an LGBT Professional," Dorie Clark is looking to move the needle. Clark, who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, got the idea from a LinkedIn pitch. She first started teaching on the career site in 2016 and had been in ongoing contact with LinkedIn since, Clark told HR Dive.
When LinkedIn's team expressed a desire for more diversity and inclusion content, Clark decided to put her experiences as an LGBTQ professor, author, public speaker and marketing consultant to use. Below, Clark offers advice for gay and trans professonials — as well as best practices for the HR teams looking to nurture LGBTQ employees.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HR DIVE: I know there are lots of different challenges to being a queer person at work, but what are some key topics you focus on in your course?
DORIE CLARK: I like to think about it as going through the lifecycle of coming out. People who are taking the course may be at different stages, and some of the modules will be more directly relevant than others. But I wanted to create something with a comprehensive look at the experience of being out at work.
We have everything from, 'How do you how do you come out to people at work?' to coming out in a job interview, if you're presenting yourself for the first time. Which might feel awkward. You might worry, potentially, that it could change how people think about you. So how do you do that?
All the way to: OK, you're out at work. How do you deal with colleagues that might be hostile? Or how do you deal with colleagues that are actually really nice, but, maybe, over-enthusiastic?
Also, building connections with other LGBT professionals. You know, 'How do you create a great network of other people in the community?'
Each of those facets are all so important to LGBTQ identity. I've been out as a queer person, professionally, for about four or five years now. But this past year was the first time I was out professionally as non-binary and I was on the job search. It was definitely nerve-racking and I always told myself, 'If potential employers didn't react well, then that's not somewhere I want to work.'
Out of curiosity, let's address the pronouns conversation. Do you have any advice for ways to handle misgendering, either in a meeting or over email? I find it so much easier to send an email saying, "Hey, I use they/them pronouns." But when it's in person? I'm not sure what to do.
With the first one, you actually can do a one-two punch. If you know you're going to have a meeting with someone for the first time, you can send an email beforehand so they are fully apprised of your appropriate pronouns.
If for some reason that's not an option, it's useful to have an ally in the room, that you can cultivate, and that person can make it less awkward. They can be 'the captain of the conversation' and suggest, 'Oh great, well, we don't all know each other here. Why don't we go around and introduce ourselves? Everyone can say who they are, what their pronouns are and what their role is.'
That way, it becomes a sort of normalized situation where everybody's doing the same thing. And it's not just, 'Oh, this person over here, you need to treat them differently!' Which of course we don't want.
On the flip side, this is also helpful advice for HR professionals who aren't transgender. Apart from getting perspective through your LinkedIn Learning course, what else can HR professionals do to create a more inclusive environment? Are you seeing any particular LGBTQ-in-the-workplace pain points in 2021, where people are still encountering issues?
Let's say someone is an HR professional — they're not themselves LGBT, but they want to be a good ally and create a supportive environment. Actually get in the trenches and have conversations with LGBT employees about what they're experiencing and what would be most helpful.
There may be unique wrinkles based on how things unfold. The situation on the ground can be different enough that the only way we know is by asking. There's not a one-size-fits-all solution.
It's great to have employee resource groups. In general, it's great to be inclusive of trans and non-binary colleagues by suggesting that people share their pronouns.
But the most important thing in creating an inclusive culture — that's genuinely inclusive — is to respond with thoughtfulness to the needs of the actual individuals who work in your company. Talking with them about what would be most helpful and the pain points that can perhaps be alleviated is the best way to craft your HR agenda.
Definitely. Queer people aren't a monolith, so there really can be different LGBTQ-related issues in every workplace. Lastly, what do you want people to take away from your LinkedIn learning course?
We picked the title very deliberately: "Succeeding as an LGBT Professional." I want more LGBT people to reach for the brass ring with their careers — and feel so comfortable and empowered in their identity, that they feel like they don't have to worry about it. They can just concentrate on being a great leader, and building the exact career that they want.
For anyone who has a minority identity of any kind, the problem these days is less often overt, outright, discrimination. It's much more 'small things,' that either might be coming to us externally or frankly, it's our own internal quandaries.
Just being stressed out about, 'What are they thinking?' or 'What did that mean? or 'What are they going to think if…' Those things that wear at you, and take your attention away from what we all know is most important and most valuable.
I want us to be able to feel confident, moving forward, that we know how to handle whatever situation is going to come our way. And we don't have to think about that bulls--- anymore.
We can just concentrate on being ourselves and doing a great job. Not incidentally, studies have ironically shown that, when it comes to career progress and career success, it's the closeted people that do worse.
People are so worried about their identities and think, 'Oh it's going to be so harmful to my career if I come out.' It's actually the opposite. Most of the time, when we are able to leave behind the cognitive burden of worrying about what other people think and analyzing all the minutiae, we can let ourselves be free to excel.
And focus on others — really step into our own as great leaders. And that's what I most want for LGBT people and what I most want for viewers of the course.