Career Guide for LGBTQ+ Students and Recent Grads

Are you an LGBTQ+ student or recent grad? Learn how to best navigate the professional workplace and make career decisions that are right for you.

portrait of Susan M.K. Howard
by Susan M.K. Howard

Published on June 6, 2022 · Updated on June 27, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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Career Guide for LGBTQ+ Students and Recent Grads
Image Credit: Anastasiia Yanishevska / EyeEm / Getty Images


Over 8 million workers in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ+. Yet, many of them are not comfortable revealing their true identity in the workplace. Data released by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation showed that around half of LGBTQ+ employees say they are closeted at work.

The top reasons for not being open at work about their sexual orientation and gender identity include fears of being stereotyped, making people feel uncomfortable, and losing connections or relationships with co-workers.

This career guide will help LGBTQ+ students and recent grads as they begin to navigate the professional workplace. It provides information on workplace rights, job search strategies, employment opportunity information, and other LGBTQ+ resources.

What Are LGBTQ+ Workplace Rights?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects job seekers and employees from discrimination and harassment regarding race, religion, color, sex, and national origin. U.S. Congress then amended the Act in 1978. It clarified that pregnancy discrimination counted as unlawful sex discrimination. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the provisions of the Civil Rights Act also cover workers who identify as LGBTQ+.

What does this mean for you?

Lambda Legal is a national organization working to defend LGBTQ people and people living with HIV. It explains the historic decision:

"The decision means it now is confirmed and clear that the federal law banning workplace discrimination "because of sex" covers and protects LGBTQ workers. The federal law applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It means that LGBTQ people who believe they have been denied a job or promotion, have been paid improperly or denied benefits, severely harassed, or otherwise mistreated because of their sexual orientation or transgender status have the right to file a complaint with the EEOC and seek a remedy."

Protections for employees of businesses with less than 15 employees were not made clear by the 2020 decision. This is something to be aware of as you search for a job.

Job Search Strategies

When you see a posting you're interested in, see if the organization has a dedicated diversity page on its website. AJ Conway, the Diversity and Career Development Director in the College of Communication and Information at Kent State University, emphasizes that it's important to consider the content on a company's diversity page:

"Many organizations have a basic diversity page. However, it's important to look through the page thoroughly to see if the organization is actually doing anything in the diversity space. If all they have is a Diversity Statement posted on a landing page with some pictures of "diverse" people, then that's a red flag."

Conway advises researching if the organization has any dedicated initiatives related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB), testimonials or stories from successful diverse employees or DEIB programs, or any professional development related to DEIB.

In addition to reviewing an organization's diversity web page, the following five job search strategies are important to implement.

Determine How Out You Want to Be

Ask yourself, "How out do I want to be in the workplace?" There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Hopefully, a lack of discrimination will deem this question unnecessary one day. But for now, having your answer top of mind during your job search is important.

Prepare Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile

A foundational step toward getting a job is preparing a good resume. In addition, today's new grads should consider having an active and engaging LinkedIn account.

Why? Job Hunt outlines these five reasons: It makes you findable, gives you credibility, helps you expand your network, connects you with employers, and provides resources for interview preparation.

Include Relevant LGBTQ+ Experience

Not sure if you should include the experience you've had with LGBTQ+ organizations on your resume and LinkedIn profile? Your answer to the question "How out do I want to be in the workplace" may influence your decision.

Georgetown University's Cawley Career Education Center includes different examples in their Resources for LGBTQ Students for describing LGBTQ+ experience. The options given depend on how comfortable you are disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity. One such example: "Treasurer, Georgetown University PRIDE" or "Treasurer, Diversity Student Campus Group."

Lean Into Your Mentors

A college mentor can support you in both your academic and professional pursuits. If you have a mentor you're already comfortable with as a student, continue that relationship post-college. They may be able to serve as a reference, direct you to job openings, and expand your network by introducing you to their connections.

Don't have a mentor? It's never too late to learn how to ask for mentorship.

Use the HRC's Employer Search

To see how companies, municipalities, and healthcare facilities support their LGBTQ+ workers, use the HRC Employer Search. You can search by the name of a company or by state, city, or zip code. This is a simple way to review employer LGBTQ-inclusive policies, practices, and benefits from a third party.

Factors to Consider During Your Search

When job searching, ask yourself the following questions:

What does working for a diverse organization mean to me? How important is it that my employer provides a top LGBTQ-friendly environment? What health, wellness, and partnership benefits are non-negotiable for me? Do I desire regular DEIB training and programming as part of my professional development?

Considering these questions will help you know what to look for as you research potential workplace. It will help you to spot a good employer and craft the questions you'll ask during job interviews.

Conway shared one of their favorite questions to ask in an interview: "How does your privilege serve you in this work, and how are you using it to create more equity for your employees?"

They explain that while the question may surprise the interviewer, a leader should have an answer. Conway also advises asking very specific questions about things that are important to you in the interview process. They counsel that it's better to learn that a leader or organization is uncomfortable with LGBTQ+-related conversations during the interview rather than after you accept the job.

Conway offers the following questions to keep in mind or consider asking in an interview:

Do they respect your chosen name throughout the interview process? Do they respect your pronouns as well? What health benefits do they offer, and are they trans-inclusive? Do they have domestic partner benefits in addition to spousal benefits? How does that impact dependent care if a dependent is not a biological child?

"If they cannot answer these questions, help connect you to the person that can answer them, or if they are very uncomfortable with the questions, it can tell you a lot about how well they support their LGBTQ+ employees," Conway said.

Barriers for LGBTQ+ Graduates Entering the Workplace

UCLA's School of Law published a 2021 report on LGBT People's Experiences of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment. Below are some of the main barriers LGBTQ graduates entering the workforce may face, as presented in the report.

Discrimination

Over one in four (29.8%) LGBT employees reported experiencing at least one form of employment discrimination (being fired or not hired) because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives. That rate increases to one in three (33.2%) for LGBT employees of color.

Harassment

About one-third (37.7%) of LGBT employees reported experiencing at least one form of harassment at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives.

Workplace Culture

Two-thirds (67.5%) of LGBT employees reported having heard negative comments, slurs, or jokes about LGBTQ people at work.

Religious Motivation for Discrimination

Over half (57.0%) of LGBT employees who experienced discrimination or harassment at work reported that their employer or co-workers did or said something to indicate that the unfair treatment was motivated by religious beliefs.

Out at Work

Many LGBT people avoid discrimination and harassment in the workplace by not being out to their supervisors and co-workers.

Covering

Many LGBT employees reported engaging in "covering" behaviors to avoid harassment or discrimination at work, including changing their physical appearance; changing when, where, or how frequently they used the bathroom; and avoiding talking about their families or social lives at work.

Retention

One-third (34.2%) of LGBT employees said they had left a job because of how their employer treated them based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

While reading about these barriers is a sobering exercise, awareness and education are key to combating such barriers.

Conway asserts that "the best way to protect yourself is to know your rights, understand the laws in your region/state, and review the organization's policies around discrimination and harassment. The same advice applies to pay equity concerns. Do your research! Know what your organization has offered in the past and know what the market average is for your role."

Employment Opportunities for LGBTQ+ Graduates

While considering how to choose a career or where you'd like to apply, you'll want to know what companies and industries are most supportive of their LGBTQ+ employees.

Companies

The job search company Monster published an extensive list of the Best Companies for LGBTQ Workers. Organized alphabetically, the list includes 767 businesses that received a top rating of 100% for being LGBTQ-friendly companies.

Industries

Tool Box HR, a human resources solutions platform, published a comprehensive article on the Top LGBTQ Friendly Industries in the U.S. The top 10 LGBTQ-friendly industries in the U.S. came in as banking and financial, insurance, retail and consumer, law, tech, business, food and beverage, manufacturing, pharma, and healthcare.

Advocacy Career

If you are passionate about LGBTQ+ rights and issues, you may wonder how to make a career out of LGBTQ+ advocacy. Advocacy work occurs in a wide range of fields. It's smart to start small before making advocacy your full-time career. Consider volunteering or doing paid advocacy work part-time to see how it goes for you.

Some common LGBTQ+ advocacy careers include lobbyist, lawyer, social worker, event organizer, nonprofit staff, DEI director, and campaign staff.

LGBTQ+ Career Resources

CollegeMajor compiled an extensive list of LGBTQ professional associations and sorted them by industry. From arts and entertainment to law enforcement and public service, you may want to join an industry-specific association to help grow your professional network. CollegeMajor also has resources to help you identify inclusive workplaces.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition gathered a list of resources that their community members find valuable when working with LGBT college students, job candidates, and employees.

Visible Talent is an inclusive recruitment company helping organizations hire diverse and highly qualified talent for over 15 years. The company is LGBTQ+ woman-owned and works with both employers and job seekers. Their Job Seeker web page has open positions and the ability to upload your resume.

Out Professional is a leading nonprofit networking organization for LGBTQ professionals in the USA. Both established and aspiring professionals, as well as supportive community allies, may join the organization. Their job board lists open positions and other diversity and LGBTQ+ focused job resources.

HRC fights for LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion. In addition to campaigns, the HRC Foundation supports LGBTQ+ individuals, allies, and institutions with resources via comprehensive programs. Their HRC Employer Search lets you know where an employer stands in the movement for LGBTQ+ equality.

Read their Taking Action Against Workplace Sexual Harassment Tool Kit for FAQs about sexual harassment and how to take action.

The ACLU works to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people can live openly and authentically without discrimination, harassment, or violence. They brought their first LGBTQ rights case to court in 1936.

ERA fights for gender justice in workplaces and schools across the U.S. They work to protect and advance rights and opportunities for women, girls, and people of all gender identities through groundbreaking legal cases and bold legislation. Their Know Your Rights Guide can help you understand your rights and options if you experience gender discrimination at work.

Explore LGBTQ+ Resources

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With Advice From:

Portrait of AJ Conway

AJ Conway

AJ Conway (they/them) is the Director of Diversity, Belonging, and Professional Development in the College of Communication and Information at Kent State University. Utilizing knowledge and skills as an active member of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) and the National Diversity Council, Conway also serves as an independent consultant and trainer for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives for a wide variety of organizations.

Conway has an M.Ed. in higher education administration and student affairs and graduate certificates in college teaching and institutional research & assessment. Conway also has multiple certifications, including a certification in the NADOHE Standards of Professional Practice training program for lead diversity professionals. Conway has a demonstrated passion and commitment for identity development, strategic planning and assessment, training and development, employee resource groups, and success and retention initiatives.