Making sure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people feel welcome and valued in the workplace isn't just the right thing to do, it's also good business.
A new report, titled the Sodexo Workplace Diversity Survey, found two-thirds of employed Canadians (67 per cent) feel more can be done to welcome LGBT employees. That sentiment is even more pronounced in the LGBT community, where 81 per cent feel businesses need to strive harder.
The study also found half of working Canadians (49 per cent) believe their employers should do more to ensure LGBT employees feel comfortable being themselves while at work.
Overall, support for work cultures that are more welcoming of LGBT employees is widespread, as 89 per cent of respondents believe workplace cultures should welcome all employees, regardless of sexual orientation.
'If somebody comes to work for us and they see that they're welcomed, hopefully they'll share that experience and it will start to grow our workforce'
Having engaged workers who feel welcome and free to be themselves leads to increased productivity and lower turnover, said Sue Black, Burlington, Ont.-based group vice-president of global transformation for Sodexo, which provides food, facility services and cleaning services.
"Our clients in industry often demand that they work with companies that are inclusive and have diverse workforces, because that reflects their customers," she said.
It costs $5,000 to $10,000 every time an employee leaves a company to cover off the training costs of their replacement, the cost of recruitment and lost productivity, she said.
Black said she knows she became a more effective employee once she came out at work because she was able to better channel her efforts.
"Some of the energy I was taking to not be out at work was redirected. I didn't have to hide the real me. It's about being very productive and being able to focus at work. It makes you healthier and happier and you work better," she said.
Black singled out a couple of local organizations that have proven their worth to the LGBT community -- the City of Winnipeg and Great-West Life.
Jackie Halliburton, who works for the city's wellness and diversity branch, said she believes the civic workforce should be reflective of the community.
"That makes us a stronger, more effective public service," she said.
The city offers a training program called Beyond Gay, which teaches employees about having a better understanding of the LGBT community so they can all be more welcoming.
"If somebody comes to work for us and they see that they're welcomed, hopefully they'll share that experience and it will start to grow our workforce," she said.
Great-West spokeswoman Marlene Klassen said its hiring goal is simple -- always find the best people to join its team.
"We target talent, and it gets us diversity. When you have a more diverse workplace, you have more diverse ideas and approaches on problem-solving," she said.
When an employee comes forward and discloses their personal situation, Klassen said Great-West works with them in a respectful manner to provide them with the support that they need.
"The individual is involved in helping to determine what is needed. It depends on the particular situation and how much the individual wants to share," she said.
Because increasing the number of LGBT employees can be tricky from a recruitment point of view -- you can't ask questions about sexual orientation in an interview -- Black said the best companies promote their brand as being inclusive. They might have LGBT employee resource groups and also advocate their support for the LGBT community.
She said she is well-aware there are those who have problems with people who have a different sexual orientation than they do, and she recommends providing education to them so they can expand their horizons.
"We believe in great team spirit and being inclusive. That's non-negotiable," she said.