Just over a year ago, LGBTIQ+ people in Australia became the focus of the national spotlight during the plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, LGBTIQ+ people still had to carry on going to work. Or for some, they were simply trying to enter the workforce.
While workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives are well advanced in some areas, the progress of LGBTIQ+ inclusion hasn’t been quite as linear. There has been some headway for inclusion of gay and lesbian people at work, but improvements for bisexual, trans/gender diverse and people with intersex variations haven’t come nearly as far.
Diversity Council Australia (DCA) recently surveyed and spoke to over 1600 LGBTIQ+ people about what being out at work means to them, and how it impacts workplaces. Three quarters of LGBTIQ+ respondents told us that it was important for them to be able to be out at work, yet only a third were out to everyone with whom they work.
Discrimination, stigmatisation, and exclusion are very real and ongoing experiences. Two-thirds of the Australian workers we spoke to weren’t out to everyone they work with.
For many LGBTIQ+ people, being their authentic selves means not having to hide who they are. It means being out – being open about their lives, families and relationships.
This is something many non-LGBTIQ+ people never have to think about. But all that thinking and hiding is costly – there is a fear of isolation and lower rates of workplace satisfaction.
People told us they had lost jobs when they came out as gay. Women were subjected to sexual harassment and innuendo at work. One woman revealed that “men just tend to get a bit creepy around bisexual women”. This was at work.
Trans and gender diverse people were purposely misgendered by colleagues, outed by bosses as trans, and bombarded with questions about their medical history.
And this constant barrage takes a toll. We found that LGBTIQ+ employees who are not out to everyone at work were twice as likely to feel down as employees who are out at work, and 45 per cent less likely to be satisfied with their job.
But why should workplaces care? And what’s in it for them?
Our research shows, a lot.
Creating environments where LGBTIQ+ people can feel safe, valued and comfortable to share their LGBTIQ+ identity or status at work isn’t just a nice thing to do. It makes good business sense.
Workers who were out to everyone at work were more likely to innovate, provide excellent customer service, work extra hard, and work effectively with their team.
As well as painting a picture of what it means to be LGBTIQ+ at work, our research shows that organisations have a lot to gain by including their LGBTIQ+ workers.
Inclusion isn’t a zero sum game – including your LGBTIQ+ workers won’t mean others are left out. More inclusive organisations are more profitable and productive.
The good news is that there are lots of Australian organisations doing amazing work to create inclusive environments for their LGBTIQ+ staff.
But inclusive cultures don’t create themselves. Workplace policies recognising LGBTIQ+ people help to create that culture. Organisations need genuine bold leaders who are willing to take a stand, such as this store manager:
When I came out to the store manager, he did not know what transgender meant. I explained the concept to him, and when he understood, he immediately asked what he can do to help me, and told me that he would not tolerate any negative behaviour from the other staff in regard to my transition. He went from zero knowledge to instantly having my back.
Lisa Annese is chief executive officer, Diversity Council Australia