There have been many gains for the LGBTQ+ community in the last ten years, with shifts in attitudes, visibility and awareness including changes to discrimination law and equal rights, well-developed internal D&I strategy by major corporations, and marketing that embraces LGBTQ+ such as consumer brand sponsorship, just to name a few.
However, there is still much to do in the workplace to improve the wellbeing, health, and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and the rainbow community that also includes non-binary, intersex and all queer identities; many of which are poorly understood by the heterosexual community.
So what are the main problems still facing LGBTQ+ employees in 2021?
Bullying, harassment and exclusion at work can be difficult to deal with. In early 2020 The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found in a survey that a quarter of employees think their company turns a blind eye to workplace bullying and harassment. Bullying can take many forms from the physical to offensive behaviours, unjustified criticism, singling someone out for the wrong reasons, calling them the wrong pronoun, harassment, verbal abuse, embarrassing, or humiliating, to total active exclusion.
Poor wellbeing. The effects of discrimination and exclusion can be intimidation, anxiety, depression, stress, poor morale and loss of self-esteem, which in turn result in poor performance, absenteeism, hostility, a loss of talent, lack of transparency and damage to reputation and the brand. The LGBTQ+ community is known to already have higher rates of anxiety and depression, and are more likely to smoke, have eating disorders, suffer from domestic abuse, be homeless or insecurely housed, self-harm and be alcohol and drug dependent. Many of these issues may be worsened by inequality and harassment at work.
The pandemic has affected the LGBTQ+ workforce in different ways. They are already more likely to suffer from mental health issues, so adding disruption to normal routines, social isolation, and lack of face-to-face support, means the problem is multiplied. Some have been confined in environments which are phobic to the individuals’ sexual orientation.
Many have not been able to access particular treatments because these have been deemed ‘non-essential’ by a health system under great pressure. Some have stayed away from hospitals more for fear of the phobic attitudes they encounter than for fear of the virus itself.
Greater anxiety leads to poorer mental health and members of this community have greater difficulty than their cis counterparts in accessing the appropriate mental health resources.
A lack of organisational and individual psychological safety. Psychological safety is being accepted, valued, and able to voice concerns at work and involves the individual, teams and business leaders as a whole. A new CIPD report shows that LGBT+ workers experience lower levels of psychological safety and higher levels of conflict, and that trans workers are the least likely to feel psychologically safe at work.
Being your authentic self at work. We know that over 60% of LGBT graduates felt safe enough to be ‘out’ at university but then went back into the closet when they started work, which means there is still an extraordinary amount of work to be done for leaders and HR. We also know that employees who don’t feel they can be their true selves at work spend 30% of their mental energy hiding their true identity.
Leadership. Poor leaders won’t know at what stage their diverse talent pipeline drops off, are not self-aware and don’t have insight into whether their D&I performance is helping or hindering their business. Successful leaders will have a clear D&I vision and message and will be effective at tackling inequalities or discrimination, demanding constant D&I reviews to ensure the business does not stay static. Society is moving faster than most organisations.
Recruitment and promotion. With new generations having greater expectations of fairness, employers need to attract top talent regardless of gender or sexual identity by internally advocating for LGBTQ+ equality, publicly supporting the community and partnering with LGBTQ+ organisations. Involving LGBTQ+ employees at every point in all decisions and strategy that relates to them and training staff about the corporate policy is vital, as is clearly stating their company values, for example on the intranet and website.
The importance of language. Openly intentional derogatory language, which is negative, offensive, hostile, shaming, or involves slurs or microaggressions clearly has no place in the workplace or our society. But we also need to look at the fact that language can unintentionally cause harm due to assumptions, unconscious bias, and lack of understanding and awareness. Education is therefore key to the inclusion process.
An unspoken discriminatory culture that isn’t inclusive will result in fear as well as poor communication, mental health and use of talent, thereby producing an ineffectual workforce with hostility and reinforced barriers in place. Simply put, an inclusive workplace for the LGBTQ+ community means more creativity, diversity, points of view, innovation, kindness and if people feel safe at work, a much more effective environment.