The average full-time American works 47 hours per week, with approximately 90,000 hours of an individual’s life spent at work. With such a huge portion of our lives dedicated to our jobs, it is of ever-increasing importance that work is a place where we feel comfortable. Estimates indicate that approximately 46% of LGBTQ employees have not disclosed their LGBTQ identity to their employers.
According to research, gay and lesbian employees are more likely to experience discrimination and mistreatment compared to heterosexuals. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age (over 40), and disability. Although Title VII does not currently include sexual orientation as a protected class, several states do have statutes that prohibit discrimination based on LGBTQ identity. The transgender bathroom debate that sparked controversy within the last few years opened up the national conversation about transgender rights in the workplace. Companies must now consider how they can be more inclusive of the entire spectrum of the LGBTQ community including transgendered individuals and those who are gender non-conforming.
A 2018 Accenture study analyzed more than 22,000 men and women in 34 countries in order to identify what factors are deemed necessary to thrive and advance at work. Forty factors were identified through their research. Some of the factors include, “the freedom to be innovative and creative,” employees never being asked to “change their appearance to conform to company culture,” and employees feeling “comfortable reporting sex discrimination/sexual harassment(s) to the company.” In companies where the 40 factors are most common, LGBTQ employees are more likely to advance to manager or senior manager, they are more satisfied with their careers and have greater career aspirations than in companies where these 40 factors are less common. Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer at Accenture, said it best. “It’s critical that companies create a truly human environment where people can be successful both professionally and personally—where they can be who they are and feel they belong, every day.”
How can organizations follow Ellyn Shook’s advice and create an environment and culture that is inclusive for LGBTQ employees?
- Be sure that you have inclusive policies and procedures within the organization. One study found that organizational policies and practices had a great influence on perceptions of sexual orientation discrimination. Although federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, organizations should have inclusive policies in place to protect LGBTQ employees, such as same-sex partner benefits. It is especially important that these policies are specific and written.
- Employers should deal with discrimination head on and should not hesitate to discipline employees who fail to treat their LGBTQ coworkers with mutual respect. If employees witness others being treated poorly and no punitive action is taken by organizational leaders, this may allow others to think this behavior is acceptable. Any sort of harassment, jokes, statements etc. should be dealt with swiftly.
- Employees should have consistent and ongoing training on how to foster an inclusive workplace for all employees. Training should focus on how to address homophobia and transphobia and employees should be educated on LGBTQ issues.