By Melissa J. Anderson

This year, Evolved Employer has been exploring what it means to have many social identities – after all, not every woman is the same, obviously, and we are shaped by our other different social and ethnic backgrounds as well. For example, how does being a woman impact your ambition, your networking techniques, or your ability to get a promotion at work? How does adding an additional minority identity – like LGBT – change that?

We believe that taking a more granular approach to diversity is one way to develop programs, policies, and workplace cultures that help every person thrive in their career.

That’s why we’re launching today our latest research into multiple identities: “Being Out at Work: Exploring LGBT women’s workplace experience in the UK.

Our research revealed some interesting results around the impact of leadership on creating inclusive cultures. And our respondents were not shy in letting us know – the leadership at many firms may be talking the talk, but managers and colleagues are not always walking the walk.

This points to the importance of LGBT allies (also known as straight allies). When straight colleges are willing to stand up for LGBT inclusion, they can help achieve the inclusive culture that so many people in senior management talk about. Leadership support is important, but leaders can’t do it alone. People on the ground practicing inclusion every day are critical to creating organizations where being out isn’t seen as being a career liability. This is the key to developing a company where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.

Our Research

In our poll of LGBT women working in finance in the UK, 57.4% said they were out to everyone, while 35.1% said they were out to some colleagues. Only 7.4% were only out to HR or not at all.

Most (51.8%) felt that coming out did not (or hypothetically would not) hurt their career advancement prospects. But over a quarter (25.8%) said they weren’t sure, and one in ten (9.7%) said it definitely would be damaging. While they were in the minority, that still adds up to quite a lot of people who think being LGBT could hurt their advancement prospects.

While most of the women said they were overall pleased with their workplace environments, we noted some disturbing trends.

For example, almost three in five women (59%) said they had been made uncomfortable by a joke or statement about LGBT people in the past two years. Additionally, while the majority of respondents (78.7%) said negative comments about LGBT people were not tolerated on their teams, 11.5% said they might be depending on the situation, and 4.9% said they definitely were. Again, while a minority, this still amounts to more than 15% of LGBT women working on teams where LGBT is either a punchline or an insult – and that’s 15% too many.

Leadership and LGBT Allies

We also discovered a potential connection between senior leadership support for LGBT inclusiveness and the presence of LGBT allies. We asked our respondents an open ended question about how they felt senior managers supported LGBT people at work. Only 8.6% of responses were purely negative, 36.2% of responses were purely positive, and 46.6% of responses were a mixture of both, demonstrating that they believe their leaders can do better.

Going deeper, 31% of the women said their firm’s leadership was vocal or emphatic about the importance of LGBT inclusiveness. But, almost a quarter (22%) of those people also said that leadership support did not have much impact on their experience as LGBT women – compared with 13.8% of total respondents. It is striking that more women with vocally supportive leaders felt that leadership support had little impact on them than average.

This points to a disconnect between the level of support from above and the level of support LGBT women receive from colleagues and managers. It also suggests the importance of LGBT allies, who can carry the message of inclusiveness from those at the top throughout the rest of the organization.

Over three quarters (75.9%) called allies either “crucial” or “helpful.” And even though the idea of straight allies hasn’t been around long, the good news is that almost three in five of our respondents (59.3%) said that if they were asked, they could provide the name of a vocal ally.

The research suggests that companies can maximize the resources they’ve put into LGBT initiatives by encouraging senior leadership, LGBT individuals, and allies to work together toward inclusion.

The report goes into much more detail on networking, allies, leadership, and organizational culture. You can download it here for free. Thanks to our sponsors Bank of American Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs for sponsoring this research.