The vast majority of LGBTIQ Australians are not comfortable coming out to their work colleagues.
The Out at Work: from Prejudice to Pride report released last week suggests 25 per cent of employees were out to some people and almost 40 per cent were out to most people at work.
The joint Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Diversity Council Australia report highlighted the complexities related to coming out at work – from coming out multiple times a day, week or year; coming out to some colleagues but not others; and being outed against their will.
The report was based on an online survey of more than 1600 LGBTIQ+ workers about their experiences, as well as face-to-face think-tanks with more than 60 LGBTIQ+ employees working at various levels across a range of organisations and industries.
Workplace culture, genuine bold leadership and policies were identified as the keys to creating an environment where LGBTIQ+ staff felt safe to come out.
RMIT workplace diversity expert and Out at Work lead researcher Dr Raymond Trau said much of the existing research highlighted that while coming out at work was beneficial, it could have consequences.
“Many people realise coming out at work is complex but don’t always realise that it’s not a one-off event,” Dr Trau said.
“It’s is an ongoing dilemma for many LGBTIQ+ workers, particularly when they start a new job or meet new co-workers and may have to go through that process all over again.
“Even LGBTIQ+ workers who are very comfortable with their identity and have come out many times still need to think twice when they work in a job or occupation that is homophobic, transphobic or not LGBTIQ+ inclusive.
“This explains why our findings still show that coming out remains a problem in the workplace.”
The report also found:
Workers who were not out to everyone at work were almost 50 per cent less satisfied with their job compared to colleagues who were out to everyone.
LGBTIQ+ employees at inclusive organisations were at least twice as likely as employees in non-inclusive cultures to innovate, achieve and provide excellent customer service.
Only 14 per cent of workers who had more than one LGBTIQ+ attribute, such as being transgender and gay or bisexual, were out to everyone at work.
Eight per cent of LGBTIQ+ workers had more than one LGBTIQ+ attribute and these workers experienced ‘double jeopardy’ when it came to the risks of being out at work.
Lisa Annese, the CEO of Diversity Council of Australia, said the results prove that being out and open at work is essential for a happier work life.
“A large proportion of LGBTITQ+ 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,” she said.
“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.”