October 20, 2021

Anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination at work is still a reality

The “gender revolution” — the movement toward mainstream acceptance and equality for diverse gender identities — has been underway for decades, and now it’s arriving at the doorstep of your workplace.

You’ve added your pronouns to your email signature, LinkedIn profile, and Zoom name. Now what? By sharing your pronouns, you’re sending a signal to transgender and gender-nonconforming folks that it’s safe for them to do the same. But the journey to an inclusive, equitable workplace for LGBTQ+ employees doesn’t start and stop with the simple act of sharing your pronouns and respecting those of others. Grow your awareness of the issues facing your LGBTQ+ employees and understand the gaps in your organization that might exacerbate exclusion.

(If you’re not sure what pronouns even are in this context, we recommend this guide as a place to start!)

recent survey from The Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank for issues affecting the LGBTQ+ Community, states that over a million nonbinary adults live in the US. The world at large is becoming a more accepting place for gender-expansive identities. Because gender makes up a large portion of who we are, it will naturally come up in our workplaces. When we speak about expanding the diversity within our organizations, we must include gender diversity. 

The obstacles LGBTQ+ employees are facing:

  • 10% of LGBTQ+ people say they were fired or denied a job because of their gender or sexual identity.
  • People of color (POC) who are LGBTQ+ experience more discrimination and harassment: 63.5% of LGBTQ+ POC report they were discriminated against because of religious motivation, compared to 47% of white LGBTQ+ people. 
  • Reporting on de facto discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pride at Work reports: “LGBTQ+ people were 36% more likely to have been laid off or had their hours reduced than the general population.
  • 58% of LGB people reported hearing derogatory comments about sexual orientation and gender identity in their workplaces. 
  • 30% of transgender respondents to the United States Trans Survey reported losing or being denied a job because of their gender identity or expression.

Discrimination in the workplace

Many companies ask employees to bring their whole selves to the workplace but fail to create sufficient systemic support for employees to feel safe sharing aspects of their lives or identities that may veer from the dominant culture. To cope with the feelings of fear, anxiety, and displacement, many trans and gender-nonconforming people practice what’s called “covering.”

Covering includes ways that marginalized communities downplay their identity to exist symbiotically with the dominant culture. This behavior is similar to code-switching in Black and African-American communities, where dialects, volume, and tone are manipulated to suit the current environment. For LGBTQ+ folks, it can look like gay cis men artificially lowering or deepening their tone when they speak or dampening down any difference that could be attributed to queerness to fit in.  

Intersectionality and LGBTQ+ inclusion

Intersectionality refers to how a person can be marginalized by the dominant culture for more than one aspect of their identity. For instance, people of color who also identity as LGBTQ+ experience higher levels of discrimination and harassment. These intersections of identity can add complexity to how and why someone is discriminated against or harassed, creating more emotional labor and anxiety.

There is a pressing need to maintain momentum toward an equitable, human-centric, compassionate workplace for all. It’s never the responsibility of the person being harmed to educate and explain why a behavior or action is harmful. Solutions need to be systemic. Personal interactions reflect the attitude of the company towards inclusion and acceptance. 

Inclusion is the right (and legally-required) thing to do.

While federal law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression, a 2020 Supreme Court ruling interprets the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as extending to these protections. Twenty-seven states, in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity.

We know that diverse teams are the most creative, productive teams. Beyond business outcomes of greater innovation and success, cultivating diverse teams is essential to our society progressing toward a more inclusive world at large.

Seek to genuinely increase your understanding of the challenges facing LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and nonbinary people, and your retention rates will increase. You will increase the mental and physical health and safety of LGBTQ+ employees by demonstrating inclusion and belonging. Your teams will be more innovative, creative, and productive with gender diversity in your organization, bringing different perspectives that challenge the status quo. When people feel seen and affirmed for who they are, they can bring more of themselves to the table and are more willing to offer their talents to their work for the benefit of the company and the increased psychological safety of all employees. 

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