Majority of Workers Still Hide Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity at Work

For Immediate Release

Contact: 
Brad Luna | Phone: 202/216.1514
Trevor Thomas | Phone: 202/216.1547

Majority of Workers Still Hide Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity at Work

New “Degrees of Equality” report finds persistent negative climate for LGBT workers

WASHINGTON -
A
majority – 51 percent – of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
workers continue to hide their identity from most or all co-workers,
according to a new report released today from the Human Rights Campaign
Foundation that examines the real-life experiences of LGBT workers.
 The report, “Degrees of Equality: A National Study Examining Workplace
Climate for LGBT Employees,” found that, despite significant advances
in employment policies at major U.S. corporations, a majority of LGBT
workers continue to experience a range of negative consequences because
of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  Younger workers are
even more likely to hide their LGBT identity – only 5 percent of LGBT
employees ages 18 to 24 say they are totally open at work, compared to
more than 20 percent in older age cohorts.  The report is available for
download at www.DegreesOfEquality.org.
 
“Overall
attitudes towards LGBT people have come a long way, but we can’t forget
that people still struggle at work and that this has a profound impact
on LGBT workers’ careers,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human
Rights Campaign Foundation.  “Degrees of Equality helps us bridge the
gap between policy and practice to fully understand LGBT workers’
experiences.  The more we understand the workplace, the more we can
help usher it to a place where all employees can thrive.”
 
The
study examined why workers chose to disclose their LGBT identity or
not, how these issues arise in the workplace, the impact they have for
businesses and what can be done to improve productivity and retention.
 In recent years, businesses have engaged in sustained efforts to
implement policies aimed at creating safe and productive workplaces for
talented LGBT employees.  The number of companies that receive top
ratings on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Corporate Equality
Index, for example, rose from just 13 in 2002 to 305 in the 2010 report
released last week.
 
Nevertheless,
significant numbers of LGBT employees continue to experience a negative
workplace climate that affects productivity, retention and professional
relationships.  At least once in the past year, 42 percent of LGBT
employees report lying about their personal lives, 27 percent have felt
distracted, 21 percent have job searched and 13 percent have stayed
home from work as a result of working in an environment that is not
always accepting of LGBT people.
 
As
reasons for hiding their identities, 39 percent fear losing
connections, 28 percent fear not being considered for advancement, 17
percent fear getting fired and more than one in ten (13 percent) fear
for their personal safety.  Transgender workers are much more likely
than other groups to report fearing for their personal safety – 40
percent compared to 20 percent of gay men.  And 42 percent of
transgender workers feared getting fired if they revealed their LGBT
identity, compare to 22 percent of gay men. 
 
An
employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity are often unavoidable
in casual, non-work related conversations.  These conversations occur
frequently and are an essential component to building productive work
relationships.  At least once per week, 89 percent of LGBT employees
say conversations about social lives, 80 percent confront conversations
involving spouses, relationships and dating at least once per week and
50 percent say the topic of sex arises at least once a week.  These
conversations are the most likely to make LGBT employees feel
uncomfortable: fewer than half feel very comfortable talking about any
of these topics.
 
Derogatory
comments and jokes still happen at work and are a major indicator that
it is unsafe to be open about their sexual orientation and/or gender
identity at work.  A total of 58 percent of LGBT workers say someone at
work makes a joke or derogatory comment about LGBT people at least once
in a while.  Similarly, jokes and derogatory comments about other
minority groups are equally indicative of a negative climate.  About
two-thirds (62 percent) of LGBT employees say negative comments about
minority groups are made at least once in a while at work.
 
Even
with inclusive employment policies, significant numbers of employees
report negative consequences of an unwelcoming environment for LGBT
employees.  Moreover, the vast majority of LGBT workers do not report
instances when they hear an anti-LGBT remark to HR or management.  On
average, 67 percent ignore it or let it go, 9 percent raise the issue
with a supervisor and only 5 percent go to HR.
 
“We’ve
found that inclusive non-discrimination policies and equal benefits are
the essential first step toward cultivating a productive and engaged
LGBT employee, but they are not the last step,” said Daryl Herrschaft,
director of the Workplace Project.  “By understanding how LGBT identity
surfaces and unfolds in the workplace, we will be better able to turn
policy into practice and address opportunities to improve productivity
and retention of LGBT employees.”
 
The
study is the cornerstone of a new project that will provide employers
with a climate assessment tool and toolkits for improving their
workplaces. The HRC Foundation conducted 14 focus groups to examine
current LGBT workplace experiences and identify key elements of
workplace climate. Since there is no uniform LGBT experience, the
diversity of the working LGBT community was accounted for by conducting
focus groups around race, ethnicity and gender, among other
sub-groupings.  In addition, the HRC Foundation commissioned the
largest national survey of LGBT workplace experiences to date,
administered to 761 LGBT workers from across the country.  Finally,
in-depth interviews supplemented the research.
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The Human Rights Campaign represents a grassroots force of over 750,000 members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, HRC envisions an America where LGBT people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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