June 21, 2010 by Ilene H. Lang
“He doesn’t like me because I’m a woman,” my friend said recently about her boss. “And he hates me because I’m a lesbian.”
My friend is a “double outsider”—she battles two sets of stereotypes every day. One is based on gender, the other on sexual orientation.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people represent up to 21% of the general population while up to 70% of straight people know someone who is LGBT. But despite recent milestones in acceptance, LGBT employees still suffer from subtle and outright discrimination at work.
Many argue that broad federal legislation is the solution. Currently, there are 29 states in the U.S. where it is still legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and 38 states that permit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. My friend lives in one of them.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a proposed US law that would prohibit discrimination against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for civilian nonreligious employers with 15 or more employees.
Right now, the Act appears stalled. But even if it does pass this year, I think laws only go so far.
In Canada, laws ensure sexual orientation is not grounds for dismissal from a job. But our 2009 study, Building LGBT-Inclusive Workplaces, revealed discrimination in Canadian workplaces against LGBT employees—especially LGBT women.
Female LGBTs reported less friendly workplaces than LGBT men. For example, 70 percent of LGBT women reported that their manager evaluated performance fairly versus 80 percent of LGBT men. And 76 percent of LGBT women, versus 85 percent of all others, reported that their manager was comfortable interacting with them.
Unsurprisingly, LGBT women were “out” to only 50 percent of their workgroup—versus 72 percent of LGBT men.
“Double outsider” status prevents LGBT women from being who they want to be at work. But when people bring their whole self to work—and do not expend energy on hiding who they are—everyone wins.
LGBT employees working in inclusive environments indicated better workplace relationships, increased career satisfaction and greater commitment to the job. In the long run, this can translate to greater productivity and less staff turnover.
So don’t wait for laws to end discrimination. Legislate for yourself—lead by action.