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Majority of Workers Still Hide Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity at Work

New “Degrees of Equality” report finds persistent negative climate for LGBT workers.

(Washington, D.C.)– A majority – 51 percent – of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers continue to hide their identity from most or all co-workers, according to a recent report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The report, “Degrees of Equality: A National Study Examining Workplace Climate for LGBT Employees,” found that, despite significant advances in employment policies at major U.S. corporations, a majority of LGBT workers continue to experience a range of negative consequences because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Younger workers are even more likely to hide their LGBT identity – 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.

“Overall attitudes towards LGBT people have come a long way, but we can’t forget that people still struggle at work and that this has a profound impact on LGBT workers’ careers,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. “Degrees of Equality helps us bridge the gap between policy and practice to fully understand LGBT workers’ experiences. The more we understand the workplace, the more we can help usher it to a place where all employees can thrive.”

The study examined why workers chose to disclose their LGBT identity or not, how these issues arise in the workplace, the impact they have for businesses and what can be done to improve productivity and retention. In recent years, businesses have engaged in sustained efforts to implement policies aimed at creating safe and productive workplaces for talented LGBT employees. The number of companies that receive top ratings on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Corporate Equality Index, for example, rose from just 13 in 2002 to 305 in 2010.

Nevertheless, significant numbers of LGBT employees continue to experience a negative workplace climate that affects productivity, retention and professional relationships. At least once in the past year, 42 percent of LGBT employees report lying about their personal lives, 27 percent have felt distracted, 21 percent have job searched and 13 percent have stayed home from work as a result of working in an environment that is not always accepting of LGBT people.

As reasons for hiding their identities, 28 percent fear not being considered for advancement, 17 percent fear getting fired and more than one in ten (13 percent) fear for their personal safety. Transgender workers are much more likely than other groups to report fearing for their personal safety and 42 percent of transgender workers feared getting fired if they revealed their LGBT identity.

The report further found employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity are often unavoidable in casual, non-work related conversations. At least once per week, 89 percent of LGBT employees say conversations about social lives, 80 percent confront conversations involving spouses, relationships and dating at least once per week and 50 percent say the topic of sex arises at least once a week.

The vast majority of LGBT workers do not report instances when they hear an anti-LGBT remark to HR or management.

“We’ve found that inclusive non-discrimination policies and equal benefits are the essential first step toward cultivating a productive and engaged LGBT employee, but they are not the last step,” said Daryl Herrschaft, director of the Workplace Project. “By understanding how LGBT identity surfaces and unfolds in the workplace, we will be better able to turn policy into practice and address opportunities to improve productivity and retention of LGBT employees.”