Nicki HeadshotBy Nicki Gilmour, Founder and CEO of Evolved People Media

I learned a shocking statistic recently. According to a poll by the HRC [PDF], up to 51% of LGBT professionals on Wall Street are still in the closet. That means over half – half – of LGBT professionals are uncomfortable being themselves in their workplace.

We must ask why so many professionals are still afraid, in 2011, to be open about who they are and who they share their lives with. If anything, this statistic reveals some very shocking truths about the nature of inclusiveness in our top firms and companies. It’s time for those cultures to change.

Many of us have multiple identities, such being a different color or nationality or being parents. These are very visible differences, and are protected from discrimination by law. On the other hand, gay and lesbian professionals are often the invisible minority in the room, and in many respects LGBT is the last taboo in the workplace. Legal protections are still not up to par in the U.S. (In 29 states you are not protected from getting fired on the spot for being gay or “accused” of being gay.)

There are some very simple reasons why companies should work harder to create an inclusive culture for their LGBT employees.

1) You have gay clients – the business case.

2) You have gay employees – the retention case.

3) Generation Y (and many others) won’t want to work for you if you are doing nothing or doing evil around gay issues – the recruitment case.

The cost or perceived cost of being “out” seems to be still very high for gay people, and the fear of negative consequences from employers or co-workers can be clearly seen in the HRC study “Degrees of Equality” detailing why gay employees don’t come out.

  • “Thirty-nine percent believe they will lose connections.
  • Twenty-eight percent believe they will lose promotion opportunities.
  • Seventeen percent believe they will be fired; this number increases to 42 percent for transgender workers.”

Everyone reading can do something to contribute to creating a better culture in your firm. Here’s how you can reach out.

First of all, The power of advocating for others who perhaps don’t have a voice is huge. The rise of straight allies in high schools, colleges, and now corporations demonstrates that along with asking about your carbon footprint and sabbatical volunteer time, potential employees may well ask about your policies around same sex benefits, employee networks, and straight allies opportunities.

According to PwC‘s Head of Diversity for the Americas, Jennifer Allyn, ”At PwC we recognize the importance of engaging straight allies in our GLBT strategy. Small actions can make a big difference, which is why we encourage our people to be open, avoid assumptions, and use inclusive language.”

According to the HRC, as a result of working in an environment not deemed to be LGBT-friendly:

  • “Twenty-seven percent of LGBT workers found it distracting.
  • Twenty-one percent have searched for a new job.
  • Thirteen percent have stayed home from work for this reason at least once in the last year.”

Is your office inclusive? Think about your companies’ policies and take a long hard look at the numbers. If your leadership is touting your company’s inclusiveness, and yet the representation of LGBT talent in your population is next to nothing, then perhaps your inclusion strategy needs a bit of work to attract and retain talented gay employees.

Chris Crespo, Director of Diversity & Inclusiveness at Ernst and Young, said:

“One of the biggest challenges initially is just getting people to understand why [LGBT inclusiveness] is important,” She continued, “At first we had to have some one-on-one conversations. We ask, ‘What would you do if it were your kid? Wouldn’t you want the same opportunities for them?’ That’s gotten people thinking deeply about biases.” will be producing a whitepaper on The Invisible Minority in December 2011. Sign up to the EE newsletter to stay updated.