It is Pride month.
The month when companies add a rainbow to their logos, pat the LGBTQIA+ employee on the back and write something supportive on LinkedIn.
Yet the discrimination of LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace is still appalling. In the US, more than half LGBTQIA+ employees believe their identity has harmed their career prospects, with only 14% of them feeling supported at work.
For us women, not only sexual orientation but also gender plays a discriminating role: according to McKinsey US, only 0.6% of LGBTQIA+ women are in high management positions (senior VP/C-suite), as opposed to 2.9% of men. And this is despite there being more women (5,1%) identifying as LGBTQIA+ than men (3.9%). This underrepresentation starts from the very beginning: LGBTQIA+ women are 2.3% of entry-level employees, but only 1.6% of managers.
Of those, bisexual women report the highest level of microaggressions, such as demeaning remarks, sexual harassment, and sexist comments or jokes.
Trans people face great barriers to advancement in the workplace, or even finding a job. 65% of trans people believe it is necessary to hide their identity at work, a sharp rise from just over a half 5 years ago. They are way more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, or suffer poverty. Trans people also face discrimination inside by Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists and others in the feminist movement and the LGBTQIA+ community itself, making it even more difficult for them to find allies and people of trust in their workplace and community.
It would be naïve to think that, whatever discrimination an LGBTQIA+ person is facing, they could report it to their company’s HR or their countries relevant authorities. In fact, not only is discrimination difficult to prove but also not all developed countries provide sufficient protection against discrimination. In the USA, firing an employee for being LGBTQIA+ only became illegal last year, after a federal court ruling. Yet it is still possible to fire employees for being LGBTQIA+ in some states if the company is less than 15 employees large.
Having read until here, or if you were to ask any LGBTQIA+ employee, I am fairly sure most of us will tell you that a rainbow logo and a statement in social media is not enough. It is nice, yes, but it is not diversity: it is marketing.
As a bisexual woman, I can relate to all those who feel safer by hiding their identity at work. Girlfriends had to become “friends” or “roommates”. Company parties had to be attended alone. There was always some excuse and vagueness to what, where, or with whom I spent holidays or weekends, lest somebody realized about my “secret”.
In leadership roles, I have worked in other places where being out was acceptable, as long as I was not “too out”. Any form of activism, such as advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights at work, or participating in the Pride parade, have been discouraged actively or passively by my managers and leadership. I have been told that, as an HR manager or leader, I should be “impartial” and understand and spare the feelings of those people with conservative (i.e., discriminatory) ideas about non-heterosexual or non-cisgender people. I have been, in short, requested to agree to disagree with those who negate my very self.
In a heteronormative world, microaggressions are commonplace, and many times unintended. Examples are easy to come by: asking if I mean my partner is my “girlfriend” or my “girl-friend” or asking whether I am “now gay” or “now straight” depending on the gender of my current partner. I have been instructed not to appear as being too close with male colleagues as it “could give the wrong impression”, when in fact my main interest lies in women. In the end, it feels that your day-to-day will be easier if you hide who you are, instead of giving rather personal explanations all the time.
Experiences like mine and the data mentioned above show us that these gestures of support are not much more than that, gestures, and that there is still a lot to be done. Let’s make June not the month of the “rainbow logo”, but the month where we take a conscious, committed approach to LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in the workplace. We can do this by reviewing our diversity policies and our hiring practices, asking our LGBTQIA+ employees what can we do better, volunteering or donating to ONGs. But above all, we can use June to reflect on our own biases and behaviors, and asking ourselves what we can individually do for a better, more inclusive workplace.