lgbtq employees should feel safe at work

LGBTQIA+ People Deserve to Feel Safe at Work

53% of LGBTQIA people are closeted at work. When polled on why, the overwhelming response was due to the workplace becoming uncomfortable, or even hostile, when they’d outed themselves in workplaces previously or saw another person in the company mistreated after coming out. 1 in 5 LGBTQIA+ employees have quit or transferred positions in an effort to find psychological safety and inclusivity at new workplaces.

Many of the problematic attitudes and behaviors of the non-LGBTQIA+ employees can be traced back to negative stereotypes associated with being gay. Stereotypes about LGBTQIA+ people create anxiety for many in the community, leading them to chronically feel unwelcome in the workplace. Some individuals even feel as if their personal identity is eroding, which negatively impacts their physical and mental health, and overall well-being; double standards about the appropriateness of discussing domestic relationships in the office to active fear of the “deviant homosexuals” are not helpful. If this seems unlikely, consider this: It was less than a decade ago, in 2015, that the United States Supreme Court affirmed same sex marriage as a consitutional right. Currently, almost half of LGBTQIA+ people live in a state that offers no protection against employment discrimination due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. And while Americans are generally supportive of formal or legally defined rights for the LGBTQIA+ community, numerous studies have found there’s still a long way to go in acceptance of informal rights such as being affectionate in public.

These outdated notions extend to work environments, often leaving LGBTQIA+ employees to feel damned if they do or don’t reveal parts of their private lives to the same extent as other employees. While talk about social lives, relationships, and even sex are a regular occurence between coworkers, the pressure placed on LGBTQIA+ people to reveal or conceal their identities in everyday workplace conversations can be immense. For a person trying to stay closeted, even chatting can be a nervewracking experience. The other side of that equation is that openly queer people who share details of their lives are seen as being inappropriate or forcing their lifestyles on others. Skipping or being left out of small talk can hinder careers by keeping the LGBTQIA+ employee from building relationships with coworkers and senior employees.

So, how does a company go about creating a workspace where LGBTQIA+ people can feel psychologically safe? The process starts by examining implicit bias and how it affects you and the company. The unexamined beliefs we all have can guide our thoughts and actions in ways that may not truly align with our value systems, be it personally or on an organizational level.

To begin to adjust those biases and make more inclusive workplaces, company leaders and employees should go through diversity training, educate themselves and the company on the LGBTQIA+ community, and respect a person’s pronouns and how they choose to self identify. When LGBTQIA+ people feel accepted and included at work, reports show a 53% improvement in employee retention and a 76% reported increase in employee engagement, leading to better, healthier outcomes for all.

Katherine Taylor’s grandmother prophesied her becoming a writer. Kate’s work has appeared in Bright Wall Dark Room, Very Local Nola, and among others. You can read more of Kate’s work at Storyhunter.

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