One in Fourteen
Millennials and Gen Z, the best-educated generations to date and the first true digital natives, are the largest workforce segment. A 2021 Gallup poll found that the post-1980s cohorts combined comprise 46 percent of the full-time US workforce. The number is expected to keep growing over the years, as the pandemic is pushing thousands of Baby Boomers into early retirement, and all of them will have reached the legal retirement age by the end of this decade. Consequently, emerging professionals will continue to transform the world of work.
Among employer expectations most often prioritized by the two generations are inclusion and commitment to improving teams’ well-being. Although emerging professionals are dubbed job-hoppers, empathetic, inclusive leadership can prove more enticing to them than a new, better-paid opportunity. The focus on values and moral principles might be one of the reasons why the two generations have been vocal in championing climate change efforts and social justice. They are also more open to discussing their identity than their predecessors. A 2022 Gallup poll found that roughly 21 percent of US adults born between 1997 and 2003 identify as LGBTQIA+, which increases the overall percentage of Americans who self-identify as non-heteronormative to a record 7.1 percent.  This is an unprecedented growth from 3.5 percent in 2012 when Gallup first measured it. Translated to the reality of the job market, it means that one in fourteen employees may belong to the community.
Diversity within Diversity
Importantly, leaders should be aware that the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ workforce is multidimensional. The majority of those aged 18 to 24 are nonwhite (53 percent), compared to merely 7 percent of those 55 years of age or older. Furthermore, 34 percent of the Gen Z non-heteronormative workforce is Hispanic, a stark contrast to only 5 percent of those 55 or older. Having such a mixed bag of cultural and racial backgrounds on a team can create a liability for leaders wanting to make them all feel welcome. Nevertheless, inclusive workplaces benefit both sides of the equation. Leaders who walk the walk access a vast and varied pool of experiences, insights, perspectives, and talents.
While Gen Z dominates the mix, leaders can’t forget the older cohorts when designing their DE&I strategies. Nowadays, 70 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage – a dramatic increase from 1996, when less than one in three US adults, 27 percent, supported it. The growing understanding and acceptance of non-heteronormative life experiences and lifestyles have prompted numerous Baby Boomers and Silent Generation representatives to come out of the closet at later life stages. Leaders and HR professionals should be aware that team members who come out later in life face unique obstacles and may need a different approach than emerging professionals.
The mounting wave of social acceptance for the LGBTQIA+ community directly impacts businesses. According to research, organizations with LGBTQIA+-friendly policies perform better financially. However, as M&S’s “LGBT sandwich” controversy and many more have shown, the community and its allies are wise to “woke-washing.” Only truly transformative, meaningful inclusion efforts that bring mutual benefits can become successful. To that end, leaders should connect with the community and listen intently to their voices. Step one is actively encouraging the LGBTQIA+ team members to share their experiences and ideas. Step two is cooperation with advocacy groups that offer robust knowledge and proven DE&I tools.
One of such organizations is the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), with which the ActOne Group is proudly partnered. We understand that without the know-how directly from the source, it’s almost impossible for leaders to create an effective DE&I strategy. For this very reason, and to further strengthen our cooperation, the representatives from our company will attend the NGLCC annual business conference and gala this year.
Still a Long Way to Go
Leaders who decide to hear from their non-heteronormative teams might find that the declared social acceptance for the LGBTQIA+ community doesn’t automatically translate into an inclusive work environment. According to 2021 research by academics from The Williams Institute at the University of UCLA School of Law, 50.4 percent of non-heteronormative American workers are still closeted to their managers, and 25.8 percent are closeted to everyone. The same research found that over 40 percent of LGBTQIA+ workers “reported experiencing unfair treatment at work, including being fired, not hired, or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives.”
The fact that half of American LGBTQIA+ employees feel compelled to hide their true selves in a workplace, and almost the same percentage experiences unfair treatment is alarming and destructive to business. In the era of the Great Resignation, remote work, and productivity issues, this sense of belonging has already been put to the test, challenging teamwork and collaboration. Your closeted employees may feel intimidated by the very idea of a work retreat or family company barbecue. Try to think of the aim of your DE&I strategy as a situation where all your team members feel comfortable being their true selves in the office and bringing their loved ones to such events.
While the path to your goal may seem wavy and rocky, you won’t be walking it alone. CIS Gender Millennials and Gen Zers care deeper about inclusion than their predecessors and, therefore, can become the LGBTQIA+ colleagues’ most ardent allies. Hand in hand with you, they will champion and lead the inclusive workplace transformation.
 Op. cit. 4 Things Gen Z and Millennials Expect From Their Workplace
 Op. cit. Record-High 70% in U.S. Support Same-Sex Marriage
 Perspectives of LGBTQ Older Adults on Aging in Place: A Qualitative Investigation, Jennifer M. Boggs, MSW, Jennifer Dickman Portz, PhD, Diane K. King, PhD, Leslie A. Wright, MA, Kenneth Helander, MA, Jessica H. Retrum, PhD, LCSW, and Wendolyn S. Gozansky, MD, MPH, National Library of Medicine, October 12, 2016
 LGBT People’s Experiences of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment, Brad Sears, Christy Mallory, Andrew R. Flores, Kerith J. Conron, The Williams Institute at University of UCLA School of Law, September 2021
 Op. cit. LGBT People’s Experiences of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment
 Op. cit. A New LGBTQ Workforce Has Arrived—Inclusive Cultures Must Follow