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Monday, September 21, 2009

NEW RESEARCH shows 51 percent of LGBT workers are closeted

(Full research to released 9/22/09)

To understand and bridge the gap between policy and real-life experience, the HRC Foundation embarked on an ambitious research plan to study how LGBT identity surfaces and unfolds in the workplace, how environment can affect the retention and productivity of all employees and how organizations can identify and address opportunities to improve climate.

Key Findings:

·         Significant numbers of LGBT employees continue to experience a negative workplace climate that appears unaffected by current policies, even in companies with inclusive non-discrimination policies.

1.     The majority of LGBT workers (a staggering 51 percent) hide their LGBT identity to most at work, the simplest indication that more work needs to be done to translate inclusive policies into an inclusive climate.

2.     Hiding one’s LGBT identity is even more pronounced among younger workers. 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.
Employees who are not open at work experience more negative outcomes from their workplace environment that affect productivity, retention and professional relationships.

1.     For example, 54 percent of LGBT employees who are not open to anyone at work report lying about their personal lives, compared to 21 percent of employees open about their LGBT identity.

2.        An employee’s sexual orientation and gender identity are often unavoidable in casual, non-work-related conversations among co-workers. These frequent conversations are the most likely to make LGBT employees feel uncomfortable: fewer than half feel very comfortable talking about any of these topics.

1.     A total of 89 percent of LGBT employees say conversations about social lives come up at least once a week;
2.     80 percent confront conversations involving spouses, relationships and dating at least once per week;
3.     50 percent say the topic of sex arises at least once a week.
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.

1.     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.
2.     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.


In collaboration with Lake Research Partners, 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 subgroupings.  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.

Additional findings:

Many LGBT workers also view their employer’s use of the words “spouse” or “partner” as an indication of whether or not a climate is open and accepting. Half of LGBT employees (51 percent) say their employer rarely (13 percent) or never (38 percent) uses terms such as “partner” or “significant other” instead of or alongside “spouse” in communications.

While non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental to establishing a productive workplace climate, their presence alone is not an indicator of employee experience. 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.

While these issues can have a costly impact on LGBT employees, most workplaces can improve with targeted assessments and teachings around everyday opportunities to signal an inclusive workplace. Providing an anonymous and confidential method for employees to identify as LGBT, along with other demographic information, allows businesses to gauge success and target areas for improvement. Seven in ten (72 percent) LGBT employees say they would self-disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity along with other demographic information in an anonymous HR survey.

The HRC Foundation has devised and piloted the first-ever LGBT workplace climate assessment tool to assist organizations in identifying LGBT employees and improving their work environments. Additionally, the qualitative and quantitative phases of the research found that by engaging more deliberately with the three core tiers of influence in an organization — senior leadership, human resources, diversity and inclusion professionals; middle managers and supervisors; and individual employees — workplace climate for LGBT employees can be effectively improved.

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