During Pride Month, it is important to acknowledge the ongoing struggles of LGBTQ-identifying individuals in our communities. As of 2021, 81 countries have put in place federal legislation protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identities; however, that still leaves 114 countries without similar protections.
When companies and communities work to protect this marginalized group from maltreatment and discrimination, mental and physical health outcomes improve tremendously. With these protective policies in place, employees report increased job satisfaction, improved productivity, and an increase in workplace commitment.
The level of treatment experienced by many LGBTQ-identifying individuals in the workplace can differ dramatically from treatment experienced by their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. LGBTQ bullying in the workplace may look like discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when applying for jobs, inequity in terms of pay and promotions, and subjection to biased and insulting jokes and comments by peers. Along with this, transgender workers specifically may face additional barriers such as bathroom inaccessibility, misgendering, and inappropriate questions and comments from peers.
LGBTQ-identifying employees may feel as if they do not belong with their peers, resulting in feelings of loneliness and isolation. They may feel as if they cannot fit in and, in turn, may feel ostracized from social activities. A disproportionate percentage of LGBTQ-identifying employees have reported
- being falsely accused of mistakes
- having had their comments ignored, dismissed, or not acknowledged
- being gossiped about
- being picked on for their personal attributes
- being constantly criticized by a boss or coworker
- being purposely excluded from projects or meetings
- experiencing comments being made about them during work meetings
As a result of this treatment, many LGBTQ-identifying employees may conceal their authentic selves from others. Some employees may choose to stay closeted or may refrain from discussing their personal lives and relationships with their colleagues. This may also be, in part, due to findings from a 2019 study where nearly two-thirds (59 percent) of heterosexual, cisgender employees reported feeling it was “unprofessional” to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. This may further reinforce the beliefs of LGBTQ-identifying individuals that their private and work lives must remain separate. As a result, employees who do keep their identities a secret, report feeling “exhausted” by this charade and may leave their place of employment because of this lack of inclusivity.
Addressing bullying in the workplace can be tackled on two ends: proactively by the organization and actively by the employee. Some actions organizations can take to fully support LGBTQ-identifying employees include imposing policies that protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals, which demonstrates a tolerant, inclusive, and welcoming space. Additionally, employers can provide specific trainings to employees to increase awareness of LGBTQ-related topics. While public gestures of support are helpful, it is encouraged to not follow a “one-size fits all” approach and aim to learn more about employees as individuals, apart from their sexual orientations or gender identities. Representation in the workplace may also be a factor that promotes inclusivity and may assist employees in feeling more comfortable being “out” as an LGBTQ-identifying individual within the organization. Maintaining a diverse and LGBTQ-friendly environment may help employees feel included as part of the overall organization.
To provide safe spaces for transgender employees specifically, employers can create gender-neutral spaces, include transitional and medical care coverage, and work with HR systems and managers to ensure the employees’ genders, names, and pronouns are appropriately updated. Additionally, employers can provide mandatory inclusion trainings and create “safe-reporting” channels to allow employees to safely report instances of inappropriate or incorrect behaviors.
LGBTQ-identifying employees who may be facing bullying and/or discrimination in the workplace now have legal support in many locations to combat this. When speaking with colleagues who may be reinforcing discriminatory behaviors, LGBTQ-identifying employees may address this directly with the colleague or may use alternative routes with assistance from a Human Resources representative or supervisor. Having a trusted support system at work and at home can also help to navigate these difficult experiences.
Overall, every employee has the right to feel protected and safe within their work environments. As more organizations become mindful of LGBTQ-specific needs and adopt inclusive and protective policies to ensure a safe environment, the level of intolerance and bullying experienced by LGBTQ-identifying people begin to decrease. This continues to have a positive impact on production, mental and physical health, and overall quality of life.