The expansion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and awareness has had profound impacts worldwide. As norms shift in society and the court of law, organisations are reassessing how they address LGBT rights issues. According to Mercer’s LGBT Benefits around the World Survey while many global organisations have adopted broader diversity and inclusion policies, just over half have tailored these policies to specifically accommodate LGBT employees.

In addition, one-third of organisations do not have a designated program for LGBT employees within their diversity and inclusion policy and 20% of organisations rely on other corporate policies to accommodate LGBT individuals. Notably, most organisations that have adopted a stand-alone policy for LGBT employees (28%) have done so as a global policy for all locations.

“With all the uncertainty of the past year and the spotlight on human rights issues, it is more important than ever for organisations to reassess their position on LGBT-rights issues,” said Ilya Bonic, President of Mercer’s Career business. “In the global war for top talent, companies perceived as non-discriminatory and progressive enhance their attractiveness as a workplace by creating a welcoming, supportive, and productive environment.”

Even though many organisations have not created a diversity and inclusion policy that specifically addresses the treatment and care of LGBT employees, most have adopted a policy that protects them from workplace discrimination or harassment. According to Mercer’s survey, two-thirds of global organisations have a separate anti-discrimination policy that covers LGBT employees and an additional 6% plan to adopt such a policy within the next 12 months. A smaller portion of companies (28%) allow employees to self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender for the purposes of workforce analytics.

“By not allowing employees to identify as LGBT, companies are unable to track LGBT engagement, which increases the risk of poor or low awareness of the breadth and scale of LGBT issues within their own business,” said Tony Wood, UK Leader for Mercer Marsh Benefits. “To attract and retain the best talent in the market companies increasingly need to demonstrate that they are an inclusive employer with a diverse workforce. To achieve this, businesses need to focus on expanding LGBT benefits policies beyond anti-discrimination policies, including improving family planning and care offerings, HIV prevention initiatives and LGBT healthcare provisions.”

In an effort to provide benefits coverage equally to all employees, organisations globally have revisited the language of their health and wealth benefits programs to ensure that LGBT couples are eligible for the same company benefits as opposite-sex couples. In many cases, this includes amending programs to recognise same-sex couples in locations where civil unions are prohibited. Mercer’s survey findings reflect this trend with the majority of companies worldwide (81%) offering the same life, medical, and retirement benefits to LGBT couples.

The reasons organisations do not offer equal benefits to LGBT employees varies. According to Mercer’s survey, half of organisations stated they are constrained by national laws, while approximately one-third reported they do not offer benefits due to cultural, societal preconceptions, or the company’s inability to implement such a benefit plan. Legal restrictions disproportionately inhibit organisations in Central and Eastern Europe (86%), Middle East and Africa (81%), Western Europe (75%), and Latin America (61%). By contrast, less than one-third of organisations in North America (31%) do not provide equal benefits for this reason. Of the UK companies that do not offer equal benefit coverage to LGBT couples as opposite sex couples, 83% claim that this is due to legal restrictions, or lack of capable benefit vendors (50%), 33% say they do not know how to implement such a benefit.

However, none of the companies surveyed in the UK say that this inequality is due to lack of budget or the company values. Gender identity dysphoria is a condition unique to the transgender community, a condition whereby one’s assigned gender causes extreme or debilitating distress. Whilst 82% of the Fortune 500 companies have extended anti-discrimination protections to transgender employees, only 27% of companies offer benefits that account for gender affirmation treatments. In the UK this number is even lower, with just 24% of companies providing coverage of treatment for individuals diagnosed with gender identity dysphoria.

Family planning and care is a critical component of a company’s health benefits program, yet LGBT employees have traditionally been excluded from family planning and care policies due to rigid policy language that stipulates employees must be legally married to qualify for these benefits, thereby excluding same-sex couples or LGBT employees that are unable to marry in their home country.

Attitudes are shifting and Mercer’s survey shows that half of organisations worldwide provide benefits to help LGBT employees plan and care for a family, whether through fertility treatment, surrogacy, adoption, or parental leave. Even more compelling than the global prevalence of family planning and care benefits is the prevalence of these benefits within specific regions. Companies in North America are 31% more likely to provide family planning assistance to LGBT employees than those in Asia- the markets with the highest and lowest prevalence, respectively.

In the US 67% of companies provide benefits that assist family planning, whilst in the UK 78% of companies do. However, of the US companies that do provide family planning and care, there are more companies that cover infertility treatment, surrogacy and adoption, than in the UK.