Iowa companies must protect, uplift LGBTQ employees to stay competitive, summit attendees share

Event sponsored by One Iowa, Collins Aerospace

A Pride Flag flies during the 49th annual Iowa City Pride Fest on, June 15, 2019. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
A Pride Flag flies during the 49th annual Iowa City Pride Fest on, June 15, 2019. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)

CORALVILLE — Workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been illegal in Iowa for the past 12 years.

Even so, state companies can stay competitive in employee attraction and retention if they enshrine specific accommodations and protections for LGBTQ people in their policies, a collection of community experts agreed during an LGBTQ workforce culture summit Tuesday at the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa in Coralville.

Representatives from Corridor companies and organizations that advocate for people who identify as LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — took part in the summit, sponsored by West Des Moines not-for-profit One Iowa and Collins Aerospace.

LGBTQ-friendly policies Iowa companies could adapt include non-gendered dress codes, responsibility and expectation guidelines for employees undergoing gender transitions and their supervisors, and adding inclusive gender options to paperwork, said Keenan Crow, One Iowa’s director of policy and advocacy. Crow prefers to use the pronouns “they” and “them” when being identified.

Even simple changes, like depicting same-sex couples in addition to their opposite-sex counterparts on waiting room pamphlets, can go a long way, they said.

“People like to see stuff that reflects who they are when they come into your space,” Crow said.

These considerations should be made not just for moral reasons but practical ones, such as boosting LGBTQ employees’ morale and productivity, and financial ones too, they said.


Crow cited Level Playing Field Institute statistics showing more than 2 million professionals and managers leave their jobs each year because of workplace unfairness, with an estimated annual cost of $64 billion.

And six studies conducted between 1996 and 2006 determined that 20 percent to 57 percent of transgender respondents faced employment discrimination at work, including being fired, denied a promotion or harassed, Crow said.

Also a focus of the summit was how employees can become LGBTQ “allies,” even if they do not themselves belong to the community.

Though allyship means different things to different people, Karen Murphy, a software engineer with Collins Aerospace, said the term could entail speaking up for the LGBTQ community, even when none of its members are in the room.

“If you’re in one of those spaces where everyone is cis(gender) and straight, and you hear people coming into the conversation with negativity, with prejudice or discrimination, you take a step back and explain to them ... that these are human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Murphy, speaking during a panel. “To me, you’re an ally when you’re not necessarily being watched; it’s just something you do in your day-to-day life.”

And Jen Roway, president of PFLAG Cedar Rapids, said people should not be afraid to befriend LGBTQ co-workers out of a fear of accidentally using offensive terminology.

“Make a friend, say the wrong thing, become a better friend,” she said.

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