Gender Inequality

Active allyship: How can you support LGBTQ+ employees?

Nearly one-third of surveyed LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing a microaggression, such as being interrupted or talked over.

Nearly one-third of surveyed LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing a microaggression, such as being interrupted or talked over. Image: Unsplash/daniel james

Raelyn Jacobson (she/her)
Associate Partner, McKinsey & Company
Monne Williams (she/they)
Partner, McKinsey & Company
Jackie Wong (he/him)
Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Company
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Gender Inequality

  • Businesses are adopting more inclusive-language practices and are undertaking other allyship efforts to attract a more diverse workforce.
  • But many members of the LGBTQ+ community still report feeling vulnerable, underrepresented and unable to bring their whole selves to the workplace, new McKinsey research shows.
  • Nearly one-third of surveyed LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing a microaggression, such as being interrupted or talked over.
  • Active allyship by all employees is vital for creating an inclusive environment in the workplace.

LGBTQ+ visibility has become more common in the media and across the private and public sectors in the United States in recent years. To keep up, businesses are becoming more adept at adopting inclusive-language practices and undertaking other allyship efforts to attract a more diverse workforce.

Despite these moves, there is a disconnect, as many members of the LGBTQ+ community report feeling vulnerable, underrepresented, and unable to bring their whole selves to the workplace, according to our research. And the issues that the community faces are as pressing as ever: there have recently been movements across the United States to limit the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and particularly those of transgender individuals.

McKinsey’s studies have helped uncover nuances in the experiences of the LGBTQ+ population. Our research analyzed data from the United States and includes responses from more than 4,000 LGBTQ+ employees among the more than 60,000 employees surveyed across industries, occupations, and geographies. The results highlight the need for companies to gain better understanding of and provide support for the populations that they employ. The following are some of the most striking findings.

Often an ‘only’

Allyship plays a crucial role within a workplace to ensure that LGBTQ+ employees don’t feel excluded or isolated. Members of underrepresented groups often report feeling left out or alone among the majority in any setting. For LGBTQ+ employees, our research showed that more than half of gay, lesbian, and nonbinary employees had stronger feelings of being an “only” (only person, or one of the only people, of their sexual orientation or gender identity) in the workplace than other employees did. And 45 percent of surveyed workers who identify as LGBTQ+ said they felt they had to be careful about discussing their personal lives in the workplace. While our data suggests that transgender employees are not as likely to perceive being the only of their gender identity, being the only transgender person in the workplace is a phenomenon they would experience on a much more frequent basis.

Allyship plays a crucial role within a workplace to ensure that LGBTQ+ employees don’t feel excluded or isolated.
Allyship plays a crucial role within a workplace to ensure that LGBTQ+ employees don’t feel excluded or isolated. Image: LeanIn.Org and McKinsey Women in the Workplace study 2021

On guard against microaggressions

Nearly one-third of surveyed LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing a microaggression, such as being interrupted or talked over, at the workplace. This figure jumps, however, depending on the different subsets within the LGBTQ+ community. For instance, as with straight employees, gender intersectionality matters—LGBTQ+ women and transgender employees were more likely than gay men to report experiencing microaggressions in the workplace.

Nearly one-third of LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing a microaggression.
Nearly one-third of LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing a microaggression. Image: LeanIn.Org and McKinsey Women in the Workplace study 2021

Hybrid work may pose additional difficulties

Hybrid work, a work model that blends in-office and remote work, has added a convenience factor for many employees, allowing workers to go to the office when it best suits their schedules. However, more companies have also begun to dictate when you have to be in-office rather than giving employees the choice. Members of the LGBTQ+ community, though, are less enthusiastic about the arrangement, according to our research. LGBTQ+ men, LGBTQ+ women, and nonbinary employees were more likely than their straight coworkers to indicate that they feel left out of important developments at work and less connected with others at work. More than one-third of surveyed transgender employees noted that it would be tougher in a hybrid environment to be noticed for their work.

LGBTQ+ employees were more likely than their straight co-workers to indicate that they feel left out of important developments at work.
LGBTQ+ employees were more likely than their straight co-workers to indicate that they feel left out of important developments at work. Image: LeanIn.Org and McKinsey Women in the Workplace study 2021

Mental-health discussions off limits

Burnout and mental health can be sensitive topics for any employee. They feel especially off limits for members of the LGBTQ+ community, according to our findings. Even though all responding employees reported experiencing similar levels of burnout, only 14 percent of surveyed straight employees said they were uncomfortable with sharing mental-health concerns with coworkers, compared with 29 percent of their LGBTQ+ counterparts. This figure soared to 47 percent for transgender employees.

29% of LGBTQ+ employees said they were uncomfortable with sharing mental health concerns with co-workers.
29% of LGBTQ+ employees said they were uncomfortable with sharing mental health concerns with co-workers. Image: LeanIn.Org and McKinsey Women in the Workplace study 2021
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How is the World Economic Forum promoting equity in the workplace?

Workplaces fall short on LGBTQ+ inclusion

Surveyed LGBTQ+ employees reported a significantly lower level of inclusion compared with their straight counterparts. Bisexual and nonbinary employees in the study reported feeling even less inclusion than gay and lesbian respondents did, particularly as it relates to feeling connected to others at work. The largest reported gaps in the inclusion experience related to self-expression, resource accessibility, and protective mechanisms.

For a deeper dive, see our article on how McKinsey measures inclusion.

Surveyed LGBTQ+ employees reported a significantly lower level of inclusion compared with their straight counterparts.
Surveyed LGBTQ+ employees reported a significantly lower level of inclusion compared with their straight counterparts. Image: McKinsey Race in the Workplace study 2021
Have you read?

Straight allies can help through stronger allyship actions

Active allyship is a necessary element in creating an inclusive environment. LGBTQ+ workers are more likely than their straight colleagues not only to consider themselves allies but also to take actions toward that commitment, per our study. In addition to usual job duties, 54 percent of surveyed LGBTQ+ employees spent time promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. In comparison, 41 percent of straight employees reported participating in DEI efforts along with their regular work.

54% of surveyed LGBTQ+ employees spent time promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.
54% of surveyed LGBTQ+ employees spent time promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Image: LeanIn.Org and McKinsey Women in the Workplace study 2021

Additional contributions by Danny Hurvitz (they/them), Associate, McKinsey & Company.

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Gender InequalityFuture of Work
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