Empowering Queer Women in the Business World 

By Polly Shute

The Importance of Visibility and Inclusion 

The empowerment of queer women within corporate settings is not only a moral obligation but also a strategic one. Creating an environment where every individual can thrive with visibility and active inclusion is crucial. Although there has been progress in some areas, queer women often remain underrepresented and face unique challenges that can hinder their full participation in employment or business. This lack of visibility impacts their career growth and limits the diversity of perspectives essential for true innovation and problem-solving within companies.  

By prioritising and advocating for the visibility and inclusion of queer women, businesses can unlock a wealth of untapped potential, fostering a more dynamic, inclusive, and competitive environment.  

We asked Polly Shute, founder of Out and Wild Festival, an inclusive wellbeing festival aimed at queer women, to offer her perspective on leading change for queer women in business. 

Challenges Faced by Queer Women in the Workplace 

Queer women often face a tough climb up the corporate ladder, confronted by a mix of overt discrimination and subtler forms of bias. These can range from casual, exclusionary comments to more entrenched practices that affect hiring and promotions, creating an unwelcoming environment that hinders job satisfaction and career progression. 

The impact of this means that, according to research done by Pride in London, queer women are almost twice as unlikely to be out in the workplace as queer men. 

Another major challenge is the need for more visible role models. When queer women see few or no leaders who share their identity, it can dampen their own career ambitions and sense of belonging. This underrepresentation limits individual career paths and robs organisations of diverse perspectives essential for creativity and sound decision-making. 

Moreover, mentorship can be hard to come by. Having a mentor to guide you, offer advice, and open doors is crucial for climbing the corporate ladder. Without access to mentors who understand and affirm their identity, queer women may miss out on vital opportunities for growth and advancement that their colleagues enjoy. 

Tackling these issues isn’t just about enriching our workplaces; it’s about fairness. Companies working actively to break down these barriers will foster a more inclusive atmosphere and build a more substantial, innovative business. 

How to Empower Queer Women in Businesses 

To effectively support queer women in the workplace, companies need to create a welcoming environment that goes beyond just ticking boxes. It starts with setting clear anti-discrimination policies that protect against biases related to sexual orientation and gender identity. These policies must be more than just words on paper – they must be actively enforced, with a transparent system for reporting and addressing grievances without fear of backlash. 

Beyond policies, the overall workplace environment plays a critical role. Offering inclusive health benefits that meet the unique needs of queer women and ensuring that facilities are gender-neutral can make a significant difference in making all employees feel safe and valued. 

Polly said, “Leadership is also crucial in driving this change. Leaders must do more than endorse inclusivity; they should embody and advocate for it in their daily decisions and interactions. Their genuine commitment can inspire the organisation to strive towards a more inclusive culture. 

Additionally, providing targeted mentorship opportunities can dramatically enhance the professional lives of queer women. These programmes should be tailored to address their specific challenges and goals, helping to break down feelings of isolation and opening up pathways for career advancement. By fostering these connections, companies not only aid in the personal growth of queer women but also enrich their own corporate culture with diverse perspectives and experiences. 

Through these thoughtful and proactive measures, businesses can create a genuinely inclusive workplace where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. 

One key way of better supporting queer women is by effectively utilising internal employee networks. If you have a LGBTQIA+ network, make sure it is doing all it can to attract female and non-binary members. Some companies we work with also find it useful to focus on queer women via their women’s network. 

Visible role models are so important . Companies should also be looking at internal events and panels and making sure these include queer women and not just during Pride. At OUTspoken we have some amazing and talented speakers who are leaders in their sectors, be that tech, travel or finance.”  

Creating Safe Spaces: Lessons from Out and Wild Festival 

Polly is very passionate about creating inclusive and safe spaces for queer women. There’s a lot of research showing that LGBTQIA+ individuals often face unique challenges related to mental health and isolation. With this in mind, Polly kick-started Out & Wild, aiming to create a community and provide a safe space for lesbian, bi, trans, and queer women, as well as non-binary individuals, to work on their wellbeing together.  

Now, your company doesn’t need to operate on a queer women-only basis, but rather take inspiration. Have safe spaces, mentorship programmes, and initiatives that support wellbeing and inclusivity. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.  

While this statistic focuses broadly on gender diversity, the implication is clear: businesses that commit to diversity and inclusion at all levels, including the active inclusion of queer women, are likely to see enhanced performance and innovation.

About the Author

Polly Shute Polly Shute who, at the age of 41, courageously stepped into her truth as a lesbian. Her journey, emblematic of strength and self-reclamation, extends beyond her personal narrative to her role in spearheading Out and Wild Festival, The UK’s biggest festival for lesbian, bi, trans, queer women and those who are non-binary. A festival that celebrates and encourages wellbeing, safety and inclusivity. Polly is also the Co-Founder of OUTSpoken CIC, an organisation that platforms, supports and connects LGBTQ+ women, those who are non-binary and supportive female allies. (www.outspokenspeakers.com). 

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