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How to spot LGBTQ+ discrimination at work: examples & advice

Jun 13, 2021 | Blog

If you saw an employee being bullied or harassed, you’d take immediate action. Disciplinary measures for the perpetrators, removing the victim from the situation, trying to find a resolution. And if that treatment was based on a protected characteristic, that response would be tenfold. 

The trouble is, discrimination is not always that obvious. And in the case of your LGBTQ+ employees, that’s occasionally conflated with the fact that their identity may not be obvious.

What is discrimination at work like for LGBTQ+ staff?

The reality is stark: almost 30% of LGBTQ+ workers have been discriminated against at work, and a much larger 67.5% have heard offensive language or ‘banter’ about sexual/gender identity in the workplace. 

That’s a sizable problem – big enough to make sure you’re on the lookout in your organisation.  Because no matter how many LGBTQ+ employees you think you have (because not everyone will be comfortable identifying themselves as such), there should be a zero tolerance approach to this kind of behaviour anyway.

4 challenges for identifying LGBTQ+ employment discrimination:

1. Not everyone will be ‘out’, concerning their sexual or gender identity

In one study, 50.4% of LGBTQ+ employees said their gender/sexual identity wasn’t known to their direct manager. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem: people won’t feel comfortable being open in a non-inclusive workplace, and that also means they may not flag issues to you. 

To fix inclusion issues, you need to know the scale of the problem (and accept that, at some level, there likely is one). 

Suggested solution:

Run an anonymous Inclusion Survey. This will allow people to speak up about any negative experiences. If you ask for demographic data, you’ll also understand generally how included your LGBTQ+ employees actually feel.

2. Some staff won’t feel comfortable self-identifying, even anonymously

Even if you do ask for feedback, some employees won’t feel comfortable divulging anything about their identity – even anonymously. That makes it more difficult to understand if there’s a cultural problem for that segment of your workforce.

Suggested solution:

There are two steps here: firstly, encourage trust in your leadership. Reassure feedback-givers about the privacy of their data. Explain the positive outcomes of sharing. And in the meantime, be on the lookout for inclusion issues more broadly.

3. Relying on LGBTQ+ employees to educate others can be problematic

We’ve spoken before about the mental toll on minority groups at work, particularly in light of employee resource groups. Workers can feel pressured to fix their own problems. Besides the time it takes to educate others on LGBTQ+ issues, it’s also an unnecessary burden for an already under-fire group.

Suggested solution:

You can use open-text comments to get ideas about how to educate your workforce, and stamp out discrimination, but it’s your job to put that into practice. Layer inclusive attitudes into processes and policies, and communicate them widely.

4. Discrimination and bullying can all too easily be overlooked as banter

From microaggressions to banter, it’s easy to get away with bad behaviour. Particularly because – in a jovial office environment – people can feel uncomfortable challenging it. It’s hard to report discrimination at work, and even harder when the lines are blurred. “It was just a joke!” is the poor defence of the discriminatory, but one it’s surprisingly hard to tackle. 

Suggested solution:

Educate yourself, and be aware of what constitutes discriminatory language. Be proactive about speaking out about it. Stay on the lookout in meetings. Lead by example. And when you do spot it, take a no-nonsense no-tolerance approach.

Being LGBTQ+ at work: start listening with our Inclusion Survey

Often referred to as the “invisible minority”, it’s up to you to give your LGBTQ+ employees a voice. And because it’s a safe, anonymous, neutral way to do it, an employee survey could be your best bet.

Our Inclusion Survey is fast to send – delivering actionable insights as soon as the survey closes. With departmental and demographic filters, plus easy-to-read results colour-coding, you can quickly identify any problem areas. 

Advanced language tech fills in any gaps, analysing all open-text comments and generating the most common themes – so you can see if ‘leadership’ or ‘tools’ is your biggest problem.


Image credit Jordan McDonald on Unsplash

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