Out at Work: From Prejudice to Pride

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Topics LGBTIQ+

Two thirds of LGBTIQ+ employees in Australia are not out to everyone with whom they work and this significantly compromises their wellbeing and performance, according to new research released by Diversity Council Australia (DCA) in partnership with RMIT University, the Star Observer, Deloitte and QBE.

The report Out at Work: From Prejudice to Pride examined why LGBTIQ+ individuals share or conceal their LGBTIQ+ identity or status at work and what Australian organisations can do to make their workplace safe and inclusive for LGBTIQ+ workers to be themselves.

The report found only 32% of LGBTIQ+ employees are out to everyone at work and those who aren’t out are twice as likely to feel down compared with employees who are out, and 45% less likely to be satisfied with their job.

Key report findings:

Who’s Out at Work?

  • While 74% of LGBTIQ+ respondents in our survey told us that it was important to them to be able to be out at work, only 32% were out to everyone with whom they work
  • This figure dropped even further for workers with more than one LGBTIQ+ attribute (e.g. they may be transgender and gay) – only 14% were out to everyone at work
  • 16% of bisexual workers were out to everyone at work
  • 28% of workers who are trans or gender diverse were out to no one at work – compared to only 4% of LGB workers
  • One in two LGB workers openly talk about their identity with colleagues versus only one in ten doing so with their clients/customers.

Why Does Being Out at Work Matter?

  • Concealing Compromises Wellbeing. LGBTIQ+ employees who are not out to everyone at work are twice as likely to feel down compared with employees who are out to everyone at work, and 45% less likely to be satisfied with their job.
  • Being Out at Work Drives Performance. LGBTIQ+ employees who are out to everyone at work are 50% more likely to innovate than workers who are not out to everyone; 35% more likely to work highly effectively in their team; 28% more likely to provide excellent customer service.
  • LGBTIQ+ Inclusion Also Drives Performance. Employees in organisations which are highly LGBTIQ+ inclusive are at least twice as likely as employees in non-inclusive cultures to work effectively, innovate, and provide excellent customer service.

What Enables ‘Outness’ at Work?

  • It’s More Than Just Policies: Culture is What Counts. LGBTIQ+ people in highly inclusive cultures are three times as likely as workers in non-inclusive cultures to be out to everyone at work. 
  • Genuine Bold Leadership is Critical for Culture. LGBTIQ+ people in organisations with strong LGBTIQ+ leadership were one and half times as likely as workers with none, to be out to everyone at work.
  • But Policies Are Still Important. Policies and strategies that recognised the specific needs of and sometimes just the existence of LGBTIQ+ people were the next organisational factor most strongly correlated with LGBTIQ+ people feeling comfortable to share their identity or status at work.

Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO, said genuine workplace inclusion is still eluding LGBTIQ+ employees.

“Despite last year’s victory on marriage equality, a large proportion of LGBTIQ+ employees are still not comfortable being themselves at work. And yet hiding who they are can be costly not only to their own well-being, but also to the organisations they work for and the broader Australian economy.

“This report comprehensively quantifies the business case for creating LGBTIQ+-inclusive workplaces in Australia. I urge employers to take a good look at what they can do to take advantage of the benefits; not only for their LGBTIQ+ employees but for their organisation as a whole,” said Lisa.

RMIT School of Management lecturer and Out at Work lead research investigator Dr Raymond Trau said much of the existing research highlighted that while coming out at work is beneficial, it could have consequences.

"This research highlights the complexities of coming out at work. It's is an ongoing dilemma for many LGBTIQ+ workers, particularly when they start a new job or meet new coworkers. It means different things to different people," Dr Trau said.

Cindy Hook, CEO of Deloitte Australia that sponsored the research said: “All employees deserve to be treated equally in the workplace, with dignity and respect. It’s my hope that this research will help organisations better understand the unique challenges and bottlenecks that might be impacting their own people.”

Vivek Bhatia, CEO of the Australian & New Zealand Operations of QBE Insurance that also sponsored the research said: “This research is important to help us understand what motivates people to be out at work and the positive impact that can have on wellbeing and performance.   More importantly, I hope this will help us, and the wider business community, identify and address any barriers that so we can create a truly inclusive culture.”

Drawing on these findings, DCA has crafted an organisational framework to create LGBTIQ+-inclusive cultures.

Contact DCA for the members-only full report. 

Media contact: Diane Falzon, +61 430 596 699, Catherine Petterson, +61 419 447 331. For RMIT media enquiries contact the RMIT communications team: +61 439 704 077 or news@rmit.edu.au.

About the report
This report drew on three data sources:

  1. An extensive review of international and national academic and industry research, 
  2. An online survey of over 1600 LGBTIQ+ workers (with all findings presented being statistically significant at the 95% confidence level), and
  3. Think tanks with over 60 LGBTQ+ workers from a variety of organisations, industry sectors, organisational levels, and backgrounds.

‘LGBTIQ+’ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/gender diverse, intersex, and queer – the ‘+’ recognises that LGBTIQ doesn't include a range of other terms that people identify with, or use to describe themselves.

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