An Insight Into Everyday Challenges That LGBTQI+ Employees Face In The Workplace
June is Pride Month: The most significant month in the LGBTQI+ calendar – A month that commemorates the Stonewall Upraising, which took place in Manhattan, New York, in June of 1969.
As well as being a month-long celebration, Pride Month is also an opportunity to peacefully protest & raise political awareness of current issues facing the LGBTQI+ community.
LGBTQI+ is the official representation of the Queer Community. The acronym stands for:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersexual and the + is indicative of other sexual orientations including Asexual, Pansexual, as well as Ally, which is a term used for a Non-Queer person who supports and advocates for the Queer Community.
Where much progress has been made, studies show that if you’re an LGBTQI+ employee, you share some of the same concerns of recrimination and stigmatization as those struggling with mental illness in the workplace: Fear of being treated differently, fear of having your ability questioned, fear of being overlooked for promotions or increases in salary, but most of all – Fear of discrimination and victimization.
Discrimination and violence against people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity is a very serious, ongoing problem around the world, and South Africa is no exception, despite our progressive laws.
LGBTQI+ Employees often face constant hostility in the workplace. Offensive jokes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are a form of harassment. Over half (53%) of LGBTQI+ employees heard Lesbian and Gay jokes at work on a daily basis, while 37% heard Bisexual jokes and 41% heard Transgender jokes, in a 2019 survey conducted by Catalyst, a global NPO well known for identifying and trying to break down the barriers of Gender Inequality in the workplace.
Only some of the most common challenges facing LGBTQI+ workers include:
- Limited access or refusal of employment due to their sexual orientation
- Denial of training opportunities and being overlooked for promotions or increases in salary
- Notable pay gaps between LGBTQI+ & non-LGBTQI+ Employees
- Animosity from piers & superiors, i.e. name calling, gossip mongering, physical and even sexual abuse
- Limited access to Workplace Dispute Resolution when it comes to harassment, bullying and other forms abuse suffered due to their sexual orientation
When interviewed for a survey performed by South African Labour Research Service, the key concerns of LGBTQI+ people in the workplace include, but are not limited to:
“After they hear that you are gay, they assume all gay people are sex pests and some people make outrageous claims. This affects how your colleagues relate to you. I decided to challenge this discrimination and pushed management to allow me to educate everyone on LGBTQI+ rights.”
– Nomsa, Female
“We had our annual awards and my team met to discuss sleeping arrangements at the venue. My manager said: ‘Dumelang, I imagine that you would be comfortable in your own room…’ We all knew what the manager was referring to, but we did not discuss it.”
– Dumelang, Male
“It’s embedded in this idea of how to be professional. It’s in the tiny things: when you’re presenting don’t use so many hand movements. From my personal experience, I’ve always felt the need to “fem up” when I’m being formal.”
– Vavi, Female
“It was difficult trying to sell the company’s services to people on the streets. People would tell me to go and change myself first and then speak to them about changing their network. How can my relationships have anything to do with me convincing someone to change their service provider?”
– Regoma, Male
“I got dismissed at work for the smallest things, not because I was gay. She got rid of me by collecting all the smallest things like coming to work late.”
– Matti, Male
One time I went for a hearing and the bosses said it was ‘just a performance review’. I told them straight up that I am not a fool, that I knew they were building up a case to get rid of me. Sexuality is a big deal at the workplace.”
– Dumelang, Male
Transgender workplace discrimination
“A CCMA case concerned an employee who was dismissed and asked to reapply for the position. The employer claimed the change from female to male messed up with the company’s Black Economic Empowerment accreditation. Unfortunately, legal representation at a particular level at CCMA is not permitted. A lot of people tend to be fearful that even if they use such processes they’ll still face discrimination.”
– Busi, Gender Dynamix
It is therefore imperative that decisive actions are taken by Leadership to assist and support their LGBTQI+ employees.
Here are only a few ways in which we can make workplaces more conducive and inclusive for valued LGBTQI+ team members:
Create a safe workplace for LGBTQI+ workers
To ensure that all employees feel safe and comfortable, it’s important for organizations to develop clear anti-discrimination policies and then enforce them consistently and fairly. Research in social psychology has found that clear instructions to avoid stereotyping can be an effective way to reduce unconscious bias.
When an employee voices a complaint, be sure to promptly investigate the issue. Last but not least, learn the art of conflict de-escalation, especially around issues of diversity.
Include an equality statement in your Company mission
A well written Company Mission Statement should reflect not just the goals of the establishment, but also the inclusive Values of your company.
Train staff on diversity and inclusion
In order to be most effective, diversity and inclusion training should be made available to employees at all levels, not just management.
Support and fund company-wide LGBTQI+ resource and affinity groups for your employees
Resource and affinity groups can be an easy way to get diverse groups of employees together in the same room to discuss important issues and personal experiences. Some companies have taken the opportunity to give them whimsically branded names, like glAMAZON (Amazon), GLEAM (Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft), or the BEAGLES (Boeing Employees Association of Gays, Lesbians, and Friends).
Provide equivalent benefits for same sex couples
Take your health care benefits a step further and offer a plan that covers and supports your transgender employees.
Invite an inclusion and diversity expert or a panel of experts to speak about LGBTQ issues and unconscious bias
Inviting a panel of experts can be a great way to introduce your employees to topics they may not be familiar with.
And finally: Participate in local PRIDE events — gather employees who are interested in attending these events and go as a group!
At first glance, creating an inclusive workplace might seem like a daunting task. However, you don’t need to do it overnight. It can and should be an evolving process.
Start with smaller programs, and continue to build upon them as interest and resources grow. Both employees and customers will notice and appreciate the effort.
You’ll find that in the end, companies both large and small will benefit from creating an LGBTQI+ inclusive workplace. A Practical Guide for LGBTQI+ Workers in South Africa
Written By Nicky Attenborough