What workplace equity can look like for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities
Through decades of advocacy and marginalized workers speaking up, it has become the new norm that companies not only are implementing EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) policies but that they are truly realizing the value of having a diverse workforce. There have been an abundance of studies showing that diverse workplaces produce financial returns, are more successful in expanding customer markets, and play a big role in employee retention. However, while diversifying the workplace benefits both employees and employers, it is crucial that companies do not overlook the importance of worker equity in this process if they are truly committed to building a business that reflects their stated values.
The definition of equity is “justice according to natural law or right specifically : freedom from bias or favoritism”. When we frame justice in the context of looking at the experience of historically marginalized communities (e.g. people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, women, immigrants, etc.) in the workplace, we are forced to take a critical look at the inequality and exploitation that these individuals have always faced in the workplace. Three key aspects of this are:
1. Access to opportunities
2. The devaluation of certain types of work
3. Compensation inequality
Access to opportunities
While many companies can boast about the general diversity of their workforce, these same companies’ EDI practices may not reach far beyond the hiring process. In order for companies to authentically support their diverse employees, they must also be committed to providing opportunities for continuous growth including access to leadership positions. More opportunities means further career development as well as financial equity. These opportunities must be universal across the work, and not limited to opportunistic tokenism. Tokenism is the policy or practice of making only a symbolic effort, for example a company featuring their one and only LGBTQ+ employee on the company website homepage.
The devaluation of certain types of work
Equity also looks like reevaluating the value that has historically been placed on different roles within the workplace. We see a division of labor that is typically very gendered and racialized. We as a society have been able to reach incredible potentials thanks to women fighting their way into the workforce. However, there is still a deep divide when it comes to the type of work that women are encouraged to pursue and have access to. While the stereotype of a 50’s housewife (who were doing crucial and undervalued work) may be a thing of the past, the division of labor of doing [emotional] care-taking work still falls heavily on women and femme people (think; teachers, social workers, hospitality, administration, nursing…).
This division becomes even more apparent when we consider race and the work that racialized women have done historically. Many BIPOC women couldn’t afford to stay home and care for their own families full-time (not that it’s not a full-time job!) because families of color have generally earned less and therefore needed more than one income in order to survive. The work that has been taken on by marginalized people, while vital to supporting our society, is very much undervalued both culturally and economically.
It is very important to have people of marginalized identities working in all job positions, including those that have not always been easily accessible to them, but in order to achieve equitable workplaces we need to think hard about what type of work we place the most value on, and why. What would a doctor be without her nurses? What would a busy architect be without their secretary? What would the entire mathematics field be without math teachers that inspire and support new generations of students to follow their passions in math? These are questions that we need to ask in STEAM fields, but also in society as a whole across all professions.
Finally, there’s the question of pay equity. If we aren’t asking this question we cannot reach anything that even comes close to resembling equity. As EDI programs have become more common, many people have appropriately moved towards placing emphasis on the value that marginalized people bring into the workplace, and how their empowerment leads to great work. However, the question of pay equity is still an important one. We’ve thought some about the historical experience of marginalized people in the workplace, and we cannot forget to recognize the financial disenfranchisement of these communities through the lack of access to certain jobs and undervaluation of their work in general. While companies are slowly improving in the area of pay equity, this is not a problem with a short-term solution. Wealth is generational and many communities have been structurally under-resourced. People of marginalized communities generally don’t have the same access to resources and opportunities. While parts of the LGBTQ+ community may seem like the exception to this, this is not the case. Regardless of what privilege LGBTQ+ individuals come from, they still often face discrimination within and ostracization from their families and communities.
On top of the institutionalized inequalities that many marginalized workers experience, the pay gap is still very much an issue. These pay disparities differ across different identities and industries, and it is important to pay especially close attention to those with intersecting marginalized identities. According to a 2021 study by the HRC Foundation that examines how the LGBTQ+ community experiences the pay gap, LGBTQ+ Native American workers earn just seventy cents for every dollar the typical worker earns, and trans women earn just sixty cents to every dollar the typical worker earns. Employers who want to prioritize diversifying their workforce must be committed to closing this pay gap.
Companies need to be taking a good hard look (regularly) at their policies and practices around wages if they are truly committed to EDI. It is crucial that people of marginalized identities are getting paid comparably to their more privileged counterparts, taking into consideration that equity requires putting more resources into those who have less to begin with. Policies that benefit all workers can be beneficial in embracing diversity. For example, a big reason why the gender wage gap exists is because it is expected that people with the capacity to get pregnant will take time off to give birth and raise children. However, having inclusive parental leave policies not only makes a more level playing ground for cis women in the workplace, but also makes space for LGBTQ+ folks to build their families, and allows for generally healthier family dynamics for all types of families. Employers must also recognize that culturally, people of marginalized backgrounds are not empowered in the same ways to advocate for themselves, especially when faced with an opportunity that they’ve had to fight their way to have access to in the first place. This means that marginalized individuals may not feel empowered to negotiate for a higher salary or apply for a promotion, and employers should take this into consideration if they want to ethically hire and retain a diverse workforce.
LGBT Tech's PATHS program aims to inform conversations about making workplaces more equitable for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities through uplifting the experiences of LGBTQ+ STEAM professionals. Season 2 of PATHS premiers Thursday, July 14th.