By Melissa J. Anderson

According to the Human Rights Campaign, today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day. The day isn’t just meant to be an encouragement for LGBT individuals to come out to their friends and family. The occasion serves as encouragement for LGBT individuals to be out at work, as well.

Research has shown that roughly half of all LGBT employees are in the closet. This can damage morale and productivity, and – studies have shown – closeted employees are less likely to feel loyalty toward their company, with 73% reporting they are likely to leave their company within three years. At a time when companies desperately need employees to be functioning at their top capacity and can’t afford to lose high performing talent, creating an environment where everyone can thrive and be their full selves at work is critical.

Here are ten ways that companies can work to improve LGBT inclusiveness within their culture, and encourage LGBT staff to proudly come out.

1. Use inclusive language. In many cases, gendered language can make LGBT individuals feel like they don’t belong. One easy step that companies can take in creating an inclusive environment is by encouraging leaders to use language that is not gender specific. Jennifer Allyn, Managing Director in the Office of Diversity at PwC explained, “Some really simple advice is, first of all, to use inclusive language, like inviting people to bring a ‘guest’ rather than a ’spouse’ to company social functions.”

2. Encourage out LGBT senior staff to speak publicly about their challenges and successes. Karen Sumberg, co-author of The Center for Work Life Policy’s report “The Power of Out,” with Sylvia Ann Hewlett said that a big step companies can take in retaining LGBT staff is showcasing senior people who have come out and are very successful.

She explained, “It makes a tremendous impact to see someone like yourself at the top – just as seeing women at the top helps more women get to the top, looking up and seeing a role model makes environments more inclusive.”

3. Provide networking opportunities for LGBT staff. When companies provide ways for LGBT employees to meet with one another and network, they are showing their support for the group – and providing employees with an outlet to support each other as well. As Kelly Widelski, co-chair of the Ernst & Young Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender network (EYGLES) network, explained:

“A formalised network can provide the structure and support that people may need to develop within an organisation. Networks also help to drive real change. A goal of our EYGLES network [which has been in place for 15 years] is to help provide a place where our employees can achieve their full potential; this is a driver in assisting our LGBT employees to rise through the ranks into leadership positions and in turn provides role models that educate and develop our business.”

4. Donate to LGBT events – as a major contributor or as a table sponsor. In a recent Out and Equal Town Call, Mike Feldman, Vice President and General Manager, Managed Enterprise Solutions, IPG Americas, HP, recalled that part of the reason he came out at work after 16 years in the closet was learning that his company was a major sponsor of the Out and Equal conference. This kind of sponsorship can show that the company is willing to put dollars behind LGBT support externally.

5. Show sensitivity around international assignments. In a recent article on ways to improve LGBT inclusiveness in the workplace, David Lat discussed the importance of understanding that LGBT employees may face additional challenges if transferred to another part of the world. He wrote, “Many major corporations have operations all over the world, but not all countries are as welcoming of LGBT individuals as the United States. This can raise issues of cultural comfort or even personal safety for LGBT employees assigned to overseas posts.”

6. Be vocal and clear about partner benefits. Many LGBT staff may not be aware of the kinds of benefits that their company offers for domestic partners – and many companies, like Google, Barclays, and Credit Suisse go the extra mile to compensate for the extra taxes that LGBT couples have to pay. By conveying this information more vocally, companies may encourage closeted employees to come out.

7. Form straight ally groups. Many companies are taking the next step in LGBT inclusiveness in forming ally networks – or groups for straight individuals to show their support for LGBT individuals. Jacqueline LiCalzi, Managing Director and Director of Company Compliance at Morgan Stanley, and co-chair of the firm’s Pride network explained that ally networks are a way for firms to bolster support within the fabric of their cultures. “It shows that diversity and inclusion are not just written into policies, but that they are actually embedded in our culture.”

8. Convey the team-building business case for LGBT inclusiveness over and over again. For example, when LGBT individuals can be open about their identity, they can build deeper relationships with clients, said Chris Crespo, Director of Diversity & Inclusiveness, at Ernst and Young. They can also build better relationships with teammates, and be more productive. “Instead of worrying about what people think, or worrying about getting outed, you can apply that energy to work – it’s a total competitive advantage to be inclusive.”

9. Convey the financial business case for LGBT inclusiveness over and over again. The talent management aspect of the business case for diversity and inclusiveness isn’t the only one cultures need to hear. According to the HRC, LGBT buying-power has reached $835 billion. Having the cultural knowledge and connections to tap into the marketplace should be on any company’s agenda. Additionally, Crespo pointed out, “Have you ever thought your client might be gay?” Highlighting the business case for LGBT inclusiveness may be what it takes to ensure some staff members are on board with diversity and inclusion efforts, which can ultimately build an environment where closeted LGBT employees feel more comfortable about coming out.

10. Showcase visible senior management support of LGBT staff. At this summer’s first “Out On the Street” conference, Deutsche Bank Americas CEO Seth Waugh expressed his support for LGBT inclusiveness. He explained, “All types of diversity make complete economic sense and benefit our shareholders in the long term.” Additionally, he added, diversity provides firms with richer, more creative strategies and solutions. Vocal CEO support for LGBT inclusiveness confirms for LGBT staff that their skills are valuable and sought-after. The top-down affirmation can provide a meaningful connection between corporate policy and the real cultural evidence for inclusiveness, encouraging LGBT employees to feel welcome and supported in bringing their whole selves to work.