This is the sixth blog of our 12-month series on deep dives into BRIDGE 2.0.  Check out our previous blogs on what we learned and actions organizations can take to advance equity and inclusion. Benchmarking Race, Inclusion, and Diversity in Global Engagement (BRIDGE) is an institutional survey that assesses the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the global development sector. Read the full report: BRIDGE 2.0 report


As we conclude LGBTQ+ Pride month, the BRIDGE blog series takes a closer look into how US international development organizations are creating an inclusive workplace for the LGBTQ+ community.

In recent years, there has been a push for LGBTQ+ advocacy and visibility, and companies have made more efforts in attracting more diverse staff. Despite this work, a disconnect remains between a company’s language and an employee’s lived experience. A recent study done by McKinsey & Company presents how feelings of “other” or “only” are common among LGBTQ+ staff. Two-thirds of the lesbian and gay employees who were surveyed by McKinsey described how they felt like they were the only person of their sexual orientation or gender identity at their workplace. Among the surveyed, there were significantly lower feelings of inclusion among LGBTQ+ employees, particularly bisexual and nonbinary staff, and the biggest gaps in inclusion were related to self-expression, resource accessibility, and protective mechanisms.  

Like other US-based industries, the global development sector has also moved to create organizational culture, policies, and structures to support LGBTQ+ staff. The BRIDGE survey data allows us to take a closer look at how US international development organizations are prioritizing the LGBTQ+ community.

Here is what we found:

  1. Some organizations are expanding gender categories.

Of the organizations surveyed in BRIDGE 2.0 (2023), 91 percent collect data on gender composition in the workplace. This percentage is an increase from BRIDGE 1.0 (2021), where 82 percent of organizations collected this data. Of these organizations, the majority gather this data through self-reported survey responses.

The BRIDGE 2.0 survey also reflects that, in the last two years, several organizations have made changes to their DEIA policies and the way that they ask about gender composition in their workforce to allow for more inclusive gender representation, outside of the just the male-female binary.

  1. Most organizations primarily capture gender binary categories when collecting gender data in the workplace.

BRIDGE 2.0 survey data finds that when capturing gender composition of their US-hired workforce, organizations primarily collect male-female gender data, as 96 percent of organizations said that they capture this data. Of those same organizations, half capture data on nonbinary persons and 23 percent capture data on transgender persons. When capturing gender composition data, organizations should continue to allow for individuals to self-report this data, preferably through an open-ended response.

  1. There are gaps in collecting sexual orientation data.

When asked about collecting sexual orientation data in BRIDGE 2.0, only 26 percent of the organizations said that they collected this data. This data is not required for federal or state level reporting, and it can be highly sensitive. However, lacking data on sexual orientation creates invisibility and prevents analysis, learning, and goals for improvement.   

  1. Some organizations have concerns with implementing US-centric gender and LGBTQ+ policies in country offices.

Throughout the BRIDGE 2.0 qualitative data, several organizations expressed concerns and ambiguity surrounding the implementation of their DEIA policies in their country offices. Organizations frequently described how these policies are US-centric and cultural differences lead to gender and LGBTQ+ policies not being accepted. Organizations expressed not knowing how to best implement DEIA policies in country offices.

How can we foster an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ staff?

Aligned with data presented from McKinsey, BRIDGE 2.0 data, and other leading DEIA organizations, we have the following recommendations for creating a working environment that is inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community:

  1. Prioritize recruitment: Prioritizing inclusive recruitment is critical in creating a diverse workplace. Human resource managers can ensure that job postings are gender neutral, hiring is collaborative to avoid unconscious bias, and hiring managers are appropriately trained on their unconscious bias.
  2. Revamp the language of our policies: We need to continue to take a closer lens to the language of our organizational policies. Are our policies relevant to all gender identities? For example, if your organization has a maternity or paternity leave policy, consider renaming it to parental leave policy instead. Using gender neutral language in organizational policies, surveys, meetings, and presentations signals a positive working environment.
  3. Train supervisors and management: How are we training our staff in management and supervisory roles? Ensuring these staff are well-equipped in leading LGBTQ+ staff is also key to creating a positive work culture.
  4. Ensure gender identity and sexual orientation data is collected for a purpose: When collecting data on highly sensitive demographics such as gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, organizations should first ask themselves: what is the purpose of collecting this data? Will it be used to improve the organization’s diversity strategy? Organizations should have a clear plan for how this data will be used, protected, and reported—and this plan should be clearly explained to those choosing to report this data.
  5. Create an inclusive online presence: After developing an inclusive work culture in policy and practice, organizations should then ensure that their public brand reflects this inclusivity, as an employer’s online presence is critical to attracting diverse talent. From the type of language and the photos used on a company’s website, a person aiming to assess the working environment of a company starts at the very basis of their online brand.
  6. Develop a flexible DEIA framework: Having a one-size-fits-all DEIA policy is not possible in the development sector. Organizations should create the space for country office staff to lead the development of what DEIA looks for their office, and if desired, support the creation of gender and/or LGBTQ+ policies and practices that are tailored to their needs and are not based on US-centered movements and practices.

 About the Author

Carley Clontz is a Senior Research Assistant within the Evaluation, Research, and Analytics division at Social Impact. In this role, Carley has supported a variety of evaluations focusing on maternal and child health, agriculture, land rights, and energy access throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. She is a member of the team leading this 12-month blog series on deep dives into BRIDGE 2.0.