By Kate McClaskey

his year, 305 businesses reached a 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, a tool used to rate businesses on their treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, investors and consumers. Last year 260 companies made it to the 100 percent rating. Though a promising increase, this does not mean that everything is hunky dory when it comes to the workplace.

A 2009 nationwide study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation revealed that 51 percent of GLBT employees hide their identity at work, which leads to “increased stress, less productivity and the inability to participate in everyday conversations.” And when asked what a positive work environment would be like, GLBT employees said that it would be one “in which they feel free to be themselves, voice their opinions, engage openly in non-work-related conversations, feel safe from discrimination and believe they are valued, accepted and part of a team.”

So how can managers better ensure this environment for GLBT employees? By taking small steps that can grow off each other, creating an environment in which employees can feel free to be who they are.

1. Be Aware of Company Demographics

Creating a work environment in which GLBT employees can be true and honest about who are does not happen overnight. Many employers are required to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an annual count of their employees by job, race, gender, ethnicity and sometimes military and disability status. More recently, employers are beginning to collect employees’ gender identity and sexual orientation stats. With the information gathered, thousands of employers have improved their policies, though according to a report generated by the GLBT Self-ID Community of Practice, little evidence that these policies have worked exist.

To understand the diversity of a workforce, its components need to be known. By having voluntary anonymous engagement surveys and confidential employee records, employers can “illuminate organizational deficiencies affecting employee recruitment, retention and productivity,” of GLBT employees. By being aware of their employees, managers can begin to understand and appreciate their diverse workforce.

2. Know your policies

Forty-one percent of Fortune 500 and 25 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have policies protecting transgender employees from discrimination. Why? What are the details and are they known throughout the company? If an employer or manager cannot answer these questions about their own company, they cannot create an open environment.

Managers should be knowledgeable in all corporate policies regarding GLBT. By showing an understanding and objectivity to the company nondiscrimination policies, managers can become an example of how others in the company should act.

3. Create your own policy

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, which conducted a six-month joint-effort survey, another way for employers to be more inclusive is to implement their own nondiscrimination policies in addition to the local, state and federal laws, or the complete lack thereof in many cases.

This shows that the company is willing to make a decision against the status quo. When companies have their own policy it’s a good way to gauge the measure of inclusion.

Comprehensive nondiscrimination policies are among the first things potential GLBT employees look for in a company, which can help induce new hires and reduce turnover.

4. Change your approach

This can begin very small, simply by rewording specific phrases in workplace conversations. Managers should never single someone out with descriptions or traits. Using inclusive language such as “guest” instead of “spouse” is the key. Gender specific or words that have unspoken underlying meanings should be avoided.

Placing GLBT information and events clearly on the company’s website or newsletter can also show more openness. And employers can promote diversity in the workplace through programs and focus groups in which participants can talk about what diversity means and “what inclusion looks like” in practice and not just policy. By doing so the employer is showing that he or she recognizes the different employees that make up the company and a desire to include them all.

5. Sponsor or endorse local GLBT events

The Task Force Action Fund’s findings also illuminated that companies who engage in the community and offer financial or volunteer resources to GLBT events show their employees and everyone else that they are “open to all people, including those not working for them.”

Employers can be visibly inclusive by supporting causes that local GLBT employees care about. And because of the recession, more and more consumers are spending locally to boost their local economy, which helps these local groups.

The key is to start small. Though it may be a more gradual process, these small steps can help managers create a more lasting and inclusive change in their workplace.