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The Role of Companies in Supporting LGBTQ+ Employees is evolving: A Case-Study looking at Buro Happold’s Courageous Conversations

Businesses worldwide are adapting to a more proactive role in championing the rights and well-being of LGBTQ+ employees. This shift reflects a broader societal movement and addresses the challenges posed by a changing legislative landscape, particularly in the United States. Buro Happold, a global engineering consultancy, has embraced this change by establishing a forum for open dialogue, aiming to understand and navigate the legal changes affecting employee welfare in the summer of 2023.

In the last ten years, the U.S. has seen significant progress in LGBTQ+ rights, such as the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 and the Supreme Court's decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which outlawed workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite these milestones, there has been a noticeable pushback, with a surge in legislation that challenges the rights of transgender individuals and seeks to erode anti-discrimination safeguards. From the beginning of 2023 to July, over 490 legislative proposals were introduced in 47 states, targeting the rights of transgender people, limiting healthcare access, and weakening anti-discrimination laws. These backward steps have raised valid concerns about maintaining an inclusive and safe workplace.

Moreover, an uptick in negative rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ people on social media, especially during Pride month, has heightened concerns for the safety of Buro Happold's U.S. employees. Historically, the company has highlighted LGBTQ+ employees and allies during Pride month, sharing their stories and fostering discussions on visibility and support in the workplace. However, a decline in participation and increased social media criticism led to the suspension of the 2023 Spotlight campaign. In response, Buro Happold initiated a 'Courageous Conversation' forum in the U.S. region, focusing on how best to support LGBTQ+ employees . This initiative, steered by employee resource groups and regional leadership, aimed to pinpoint improvements in services, benefits, and policies tailored to LGBTQ+ employees.

The forum also served as an educational platform, informing staff about the history of LGBTQ+ rights and the implications of recent legal and societal changes on the workplace and the personal lives of LGBTQ+ employees. Discussions extended to the company's evolving benefits, such as health insurance and mental health support, and the role of employee resource groups like the Diversity and Inclusion Forum (DIF). The DIF is dedicated to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture at Buro Happold through various initiatives and acts as a supportive advisor to the company. The forum emphasized respectful and inclusive communication, facilitating a genuine exchange of ideas and concerns about the well-being of employees and their loved ones. It encouraged open participation, advocacy, and ongoing dialogue beyond just Pride month.

In today's environment, where legislative and societal challenges persist, the commitment of businesses to safeguard and uplift LGBTQ+ employees is increasingly vital. Companies that actively support their LGBTQ+ employees, uphold their rights, and promote an inclusive culture are not only responding to current challenges but are also shaping a future that prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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