Discover the state of LGBTQ+ leadership

AboveBoard | Jun 28, 2023

Uncover the data on LGBTQ+ representation in today's C-suites and boardrooms.

New data point to significant strides LGBTQ+ leaders have made in terms of corporate policy and C-suite and boardroom representation. But is it enough?

In honor of Pride 2023, we're taking a look at LGBTQ+ leadership, from the makeup of today's boardrooms and C-suites to best practices and policies that support, not hinder, inclusion of leaders from the LGBTQ+ community. Why? LGBTQ+ diversity in the boardroom and beyond is not only a step toward more equity, it's also a boon to overall organizational diversity, according to Out Leadership.

At AboveBoard, we believe diversity, equity, and inclusion has the power to drive meaningful change in the world, from the upper echelons of leadership to end products and consumers. By taking a look at LGBTQ+ representation in the C-suite and boardroom, we'll have a better understanding of the progress we've made so far and the path forward toward more diverse, inclusive leadership.

Let's get started.

The data on inclusion and representation of LGBTQ+ executives

Though information on LGBTQ+ representation in the C-suite and boardroom is sparse, recent studies and surveys point to both significant progress and vast disparities that remain for LGBTQ+ leaders. Ahead, we'll dive into LGBTQ+ representation in the C-suite and boardroom and the policies supporting these leaders.

The data on LGBTQ+ board members

LGBTQ+ inclusive boardroom diversity policies are on the rise, according to a newly-released report by Out Leadership, but the rate of placement of LGBTQ+ board members and C-suite leaders remains slow. "Just 0.7% of over 5,400 board seats in the Fortune 500 are occupied by LGBTQ+ directors," according to the report. And in the Fortune 1000, representation increases to only 0.8%, or 58 of 7,600 board seats belonging to LGBTQ+ board members.

Though these numbers demonstrate how much room remains for advancement and growth, a closer look at the data reveals some progress too. In 2023, 39 Fortune 500 companies have an LGBTQ+ board member compared to 26 in 2022, per Out Leadership's report. Of the 32 individual LGBTQ+ leaders on Fortune 500 boards (several directors hold multiple seats), 16 are women, five are Hispanic/Latinx, four are Black, and one is Asian, according to Out Leadership.

LGBTQ+ leaders in the Fortune 500

Four CEOs in the Fortune 500 identify as LGBTQ+, according to Investopedia. These LGBTQ+ executives include Apple's Tim Cook—the first openly LGBTQ+ Fortune 500 CEO, Jim Fitterling of Dow, Inc., Macy's Jeffrey Gennette, and Beth Ford of Land O'Lakes. Ford became the first openly gay woman to lead a Fortune 500 company when she took the helm of Land O'Lakes in 2018. Read more about their stories here.

The rise in LGBTQ+ inclusive board diversity policies

Until 2020, the number of Fortune 500 companies with LGBTQ+ inclusive board diversity policies remained both low and stagnant. Since then, there's been exponential growth, with 112 of Fortune 500 companies now incorporating inclusive proxy statements in 2023, more than four times the number of companies from 2022.

The proliferation of such policies benefits both LGBTQ+ employees and LGBTQ+ allies. According to Harvard Business Review, the vast majority of LGBTQ+ allies prefer to work in inclusive work environments. What's more, "a stunning 72% of ally respondents say that, all else being equal, they are more likely to accept a job at a company that is supportive of LGBT employees than one that is not supportive," per HBR. "Inclusive policies for LGBT individuals send a friendliness cue that resonates with other employees, even when they are not active allies."

How to support LGBTQ+ leadership

LGBTQ+ representation in the corporate ranks has a long way to go. But increasing diversity and boosting inclusion is about more than identifying an LGBTQ+ leader and hiring them. Workplace policies and cultures need to be in place to support both emerging and established LGBTQ+ leaders. Human Rights Campaign's annual Corporate Equality Index identifies three key markers of equitable workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer equality:

  • Workforce protections. One of the largest corporate advancements for members of the LGBTQ+ in recent years is the widespread adoption of "transgender-inclusive initiatives," according to the Human Rights Campaign. This includes nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity protections. Ninety-seven percent of companies surveyed by HRC "offer gender identity non-discrimination policies," up from just 5% in 2002.
  • Inclusive benefits. Inclusive benefits include, but are not limited to, benefits for domestic partners and transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage.
  • Inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility. Demonstrating organizational LGBTQ+ competency and exhibiting a public commitment to the LGBTQ+ community all contribute to an inclusive workplace culture.

"In the 20-year history of the Corporate Equality Index, survey data has explicitly shown that having an inclusive workplace is beneficial to a company’s success," according to the latest report. "The data doesn’t lie - being an LGBTQ+ inclusive employer positively impacts recruitment, retention, engagement and, overall, total revenue."

Best practices to increase LGBTQ+ inclusion 

Other practical ways to support LGBTQ+ leaders and employees include:

  • Employee resource groups. Isolation is one of the top challenges facing LGBTQ+ employees, according to McKinsey & Company. Employee resource groups can be a vital source of community, collaboration, and understanding.
  • Sponsorship and mentorship. Bolster the LGBTQ+ leadership pipeline by supporting mid-level and emerging LGBTQ+ leadership through sponsorship and mentorship programs.
  • Marketing. Use your company's platform to advocate for a more diverse and inclusive present and future. Steer clear of performative actions; the more authentic your organization's values, the more readily people will see that and connect with your mission. 
  • Recruitment practices. Executive recruitment is often an exclusive, closed-network process based on who you know and the connections you have, thereby excluding many executives and up-and-coming leaders. To be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ executives, consider ways you can revamp your recruitment and pipeline strategies.

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