By Aaron Brunelle and Michael Dumlao
Friday is National Coming Out Day, the latest celebration of the LGBTQ+ community in what has been a milestone 50th anniversary year since the Stonewall riots. This moment is an important reminder of just how much progress the modern gay rights movement has made, from marriage equality to increasing workplace equality and more.
Here in San Diego, the LGBTQ+ community has just as much to celebrate as the nation. July’s San Diego Pride Parade shattered the record attendance over previous years. This came just days after community leaders gathered in Balboa Park to voice their support for the Equality Act, a bill aimed at making discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity illegal nationwide.
While there are many reasons to celebrate here in San Diego and nationally, there is still much more to be done to achieve true LGBTQ+ equality. There is perhaps no local entity that needs to pick up the mantle of LGBTQ+ equality more than the local business community. Many have promoted LGBTQ+ initiatives such as anti-discrimination polices and same-sex benefits coverage. But in San Diego’s highly competitive job market, fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce is more important than ever. It’s not just the right thing to do for the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s the right thing to do for the businesses themselves.
San Diego’s unemployment rate has hovered around three percent for the past year, below the national average. Most San Diego jobs seekers haven’t had it so good in nearly 20 years. This also means that businesses are struggling to find qualified candidates. The market for top talent is fiercely competitive, especially in the technology industry, where some suggest the unemployment rate is “virtually zero”. This trend likely contributed to business confidence in San Diego dropping below average and a doubling of businesses seriously considering relocating to another city.
As tech companies compete to hire the same pool of tech talent, we as a sector should focus on expanding the number of qualified candidates by bringing more diverse people into the talent pool. In order to do that, businesses must create an environment that embraces diversity, so tech talent of all genders, races, ages, and sexual orientations can thrive.
Here are five steps local business leaders should follow to distinguish themselves as champions for LGBTQ+ talent:
- Attract and retain diverse talent across all job functions and experience levels — not just entry level jobs. This requires more than just dedicating resources to recruitment. Employers should partner with outside organizations such as Hiring Our Heroes to market themselves to LGBTQ+ candidates.
- Review and update workplace policies and benefits regularly. Employers should continuously evaluate their policies and identify new ones, such as gender affirmation guidelines, to ensure they are tuned-in to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community as they evolve.
- Educate your workforce through dialogue and community building. Employers should build community among their employees by hosting workshops, panels, and other programming aimed at professional development, cultural exchange, and inclusion. Moreover, businesses should create LGBTQ+ mentorship programs and foster dialogue across various experience levels.
- Promote attendance at LGBTQ+ events among all employees. LGBTQ+ events aren’t just for LGBTQ+ employees; they are for all employees regardless of sexual orientation. Participating in Pride parades and other events like the recent AIDS Walk & Run can be a great way to show support and create an inclusive culture. Employers should encourage all employees to participate – not just during Pride month, but all year round.
- Lead by example. Perhaps the most important element of creating a corporate culture that promotes diversity and inclusion is leadership. When Booz Allen formed GLOBE, our LGBTQ+ employee engagement program, in 1999, some employees objected to the program. Despite push back, we proceeded and are better for it today. If business leaders stay true to their values, employees will follow.
No business, present company included, has completely cracked the code on LGBTQ+ equality. But there are some basic things we as business leaders can and should do to bring more equality to the workplace. Our businesses depend on it.
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