By Michael Allison

Although most companies today consider themselves forward-thinking, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals still face a number of barriers in the workplace. Without documentation in place to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBT employees may be excluded from advancement opportunities or subjected to a hostile work environment. Health and wellness benefits are not always on a level playing field either, with some organizations not providing domestic partner health insurance, and most declining to offer a transgender-inclusive health care coverage plan.

However, despite the obstacles that the LGBT community faces in the workplace, the opportunities available at organizations today are ever expanding. More and more companies offer equal benefits to all employees, are creating policies and programs to enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment, and outwardly embrace diversity and inclusion. These types of initiatives can help LGBT employees spend more time focusing on their work, and less time trying to keep their gender or sexual identity hidden from their employer and fellow colleagues. An inclusive workplace also ensures that all employees have equal opportunities for hiring and promotions.

As an example of Office Depot’s dedication, the company earned a 100 percent score in the 2012 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) issued by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC). The ranking recognizes Office Depot as one of HRC’s Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality. To meet the 2012 requirements, we augmented our benefits to include equal health coverage for transgender individuals, and created the Office Depot Equality Alliance Committee. Policies already in place included prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual expression or identity; offering partner health insurance; and launching a diversity training covering sexual orientation.

Treating people with respect is good manners. It is also good business. Proper training, equal benefits and opportunities, and an inclusive culture in the workplace create a supportive environment where LGBT employees feel empowered to do their very best work.