Addressing Pay Inequities Among LGBTQ+ Employees

Colleagues at work

The gender pay gap has been a widely discussed topic in the world of work, and there remains a significant disparity among employees who are from underrepresented and marginalized identities.

As we continue to see progress toward ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, such as the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, challenges and barriers remain for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) community in the workplace. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group in the U.S., close to 50% of LGBTQ+ employees report still hiding their sexual orientation at work due to hostility, bias, discrimination, and mistreatment in the workplace. Further discrimination is exacerbated with discrimination in hiring, salaries, and promotions of LGBTQ+ workers, which have implications on access to socio and economic opportunities.

What we know about LGBTQ+ Pay

There is no national-level data that really shows full insights into LGBTQ+ data in the U.S., particularly of transgender people, making it challenging to see wage gap figures that are critical for addressing pay equity. However, the HRC has gathered among the most robust data.

Research is critical for understanding the experience of the LGBTQ+ community since experiences are vastly different. In the U.S., LGBTQ+ workers earn about $900 per week, which is 90% of the typical worker. Quite often, LGBTQ+ people are viewed as all the same, yet it is a diverse community with various intersectional identities, and the pay gap deepens with these identities. LGBTQ+ employees of color, transgender or non-binary, or those with a disability earn less than when compared with white or cisgender workers.

Transgender and non-binary employees face a distinct set of obstacles in performance and career progression and face increased rates of sexual harassment and discrimination. Transgender people are also more likely to work in frontline entry-level professions, such as food and retail, which pay the minimum wage. According to 2020 CDC data, the average annual household income of a transgender adult is about $17,000 less than that of a cisgender adult in the U.S., and transgender people of color earn even less. For example, 75% of Native-American trans people and 43% of Latinx trans people make less than $25,000, compared with only 17% of white cisgender people.

Women with intersectional identities of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation experience even more wage discrimination. LGBTQ+ women are largely underrepresented in leadership positions and in large corporations, and the largest wage gap is among LGBTQ+ women of color and transgender women. Transgender women are four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year, compared with the general population.

The Role of HR Leaders

In order to understand pay equity in the LGBTQ+ community, it is critical for HR leaders to also recognize if their policies are non-discriminative toward employees’ sexual orientation and gender identity, which can have a tremendous impact on an individual employee’s health and wellbeing. HR policies can extend to offer protection through pronoun policies, marital status options, and understanding what disclosing gender identity and sexual orientation means in the regions where the organization operates, specifically if the organization operates on a global scale. It is also important to remember that not all U.S. states have statutes that protect against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

I once worked with an organization that was trying to scale its LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG) in its offices across various regions in the world. In one event, the organization was trying to send Pride buttons and other type of gifts to countries where being a LGBTQ+ person was criminalized or where employees had to be discreet about their identity. This is an example of why understanding how HR leaders must work with local teams to provide equitable support for all employees.

Pay equity must be designed to also consider a range of family structures in employee benefits. LGBTQ+ employees must have access to equitable paid family, medical, and parental leave, and not face barriers to use it in fear of retaliation for chosen family structures. Companies are stepping up to include intersectional lenses of representation. For example, Apple is set to release pregnant man and pregnant person emojis, which recognizes that not all people who get pregnant are women.

A commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace requires a commitment to elevating underrepresented and marginalized employees. In the U.S., transgender employees are also twice as likely to cite gender identity, sexual orientation, or race as an obstacle to career advancement. HR must ensure that organizations are tracking promotions, pay, and opportunities for all employees. Supervisors should also receive training on how to support LGBTQ+ employees.

Building pay equity requires transparent policies that are driven by data to really understand and identify specific inequities in pay. LGBTQ+ pay inequities and discrimination must be addressed so that all employees have access to the same protections. As people leaders, we are in the driver’s seat, and we must ensure that everyone has access to equal pay for equal work regardless of who they love or who they are.