A national report released this week on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT+) people in the workplace was authored by two University of Guelph graduate students.

Thomas Sasso and Amy Ellard-Gray, both psychology PhD students, prepared the report for the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) and for Pride at Work Canada, organizations that work to improve inclusiveness for LGBT+ and diverse employees.

The agencies released the report Wednesday night in Toronto.

CCDI, a non-profit organization with more than 70 partners including banks, airlines, municipalities, hospitals and law firms, approached Sasso and Ellard-Gray, co-founders of U of G’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Research Lab.

The Guelph researchers assisted in gathering benchmarking information to help in understanding the experiences of sexual and gender minorities in the workplace.

Sasso and Ellard-Gray spent nearly a year developing, surveying, and compiling data from more than 1,400 respondents across Canada.

Respondents discussed topics ranging from whether they had experienced or witnessed discrimination at work to whether being “out” in the workplace was important to whether they felt supported by their employer.

“It’s the most comprehensive Canadian report to date,” said Sasso.

Respondents were asked to identify sexual orientation and gender identity, employment, age, education and other demographic information.

About 65 per cent of respondents were LGBT+ and about 35 per cent heterosexual. Near 90 per cent identified as male or female and about three per cent as trans-identified.

The majority worked in business, education, law or social and government services and were between ages 25 and 44; 90 per cent had completed some form of post-secondary education. Sasso hopes to extend the research to include more respondents and occupations, especially blue-collar workers.

The researchers identified several concerns based on responses, including fear of discrimination at work, identity disclosure, misunderstandings about gender identity and homophobia/transphobia.

Sasso said one concern is differing experiences between LGBT+ respondents and heterosexuals.

Just over two-thirds of heterosexuals reported no discrimination against LGBT people in their workplace, and only 21 per cent said they had ever witnessed discrimination.

But 30 per cent of LGBT+ people said they had experienced discrimination and 33 per cent said they had witnessed it.

Of those who experienced or witnessed discrimination, one in three said it happened at least a few times a month. That suggests that people belonging to a dominant identity group are less aware of systemic discrimination faced by sexual and gender minorities, Sasso said.

“It is not just that what they are experiencing is different but also that they see what is happening to others from a different perspective, and if they don’t think they are seeing it happen, it must not be happening.”

As well, 42 per cent of heterosexuals said being “out” at work was not important, while half of LGBT+ people said it was important or very important.

Other findings include the following:

  • 60 per cent of LGBT+ people said they lacked opportunities to disclose their identity and gender at work, and 75 per cent felt there should be formal opportunities to do so;
  • 37 per cent of LGBT+ people felt their employers were unwilling to acknowledge the LGBT population; and
  •   55 per cent of LGBT+ people said their employer lacked an employee group dedicated to LGBT+ people to provide professional and personal support networks.

In the report, Michael Bach, CEO of CCDI, wrote that “many people believe that sexuality and gender identity are a private matter, and that is where the discussion of that topic should end.”

But he said people bring their sexuality and identity to work with them.

The report said employers and employees have been socialized to see the world as two genders, making discrimination against trans-identified people common.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are important topics to be addressed within the work environment, but most employers, co-workers and clients are unaware how to approach these topics,” Bach said.

The report recommends reviewing recruitment practices for barriers against LGBT+ people, fostering inclusive climates, creating mentoring opportunities and increasing awareness of gender identity, especially challenges faced by trans-identified workers.

It also recommends providing opportunities for people to disclose their identities and gender in the workplace and creating supportive polices and resources. Although workplace policies exist, said Sasso, “if employers are not acting on them and enforcing them, and letting employees know that they are being enforced, then they won’t be effective at stopping discrimination in our work environments.”

Thomas Sasso
PhD Candidate, Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Co-founder, Sexual and Gender Diversity Research Lab
University of Guelph