Op-Ed

Breaking open the glass closet: 3 Barriers to LGBT career progression

Workplace rights are there for everyone’s benefit. Not only do they ensure a safe and comfortable environment that is conducive to work and productivity, they create a (theoretical) level playing field within which every individual has the ability to not only do their job to the best of their ability, but to excel. Our rights should enable us to interact with colleagues, carry out our daily operations and progress up the career ladder without fear of our workplace performance becoming inhibited by our environment. For LGBT workers, this is particularly important.

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While there is specific legislation to protect LGBT workers from harassment or discrimination, the playing field is far from even, with many sexual minorities feel inhibited, segregated or even victimized by virtue of their gender identification and / or sexual orientation. Moreover, the provision of LGBT inclusive policies in the workplace doesn’t always guarantee their effective implementation. In a perceived culture of oppression and prejudice, few employees would, for example,  ask for same sex partner benefits in their contract upon starting a new job.

However well meaning an individual’s or a business’ intentions, they amount for little if the atmosphere and culture of the workplace do not match the policies on the page. Here we’ll address some common barriers to LGBT career progression and how they can be overcome…

POLITICAL OPPRESSION

One would not expect this to be an issue in the developed world, but the current President of the US, Donald Trump is actively and openly attacking legal efforts to promote LGBT equality in the workplace. In a lawsuit this July in which a skydiving instructor pursued legal action because he was fired for being gay, Trump and the Justice department urged the Federal Appeals Court in Manhattan to reject the lawsuit.

Moreover, Trump has been most vociferous in his opposition to transgender people joining the military, despite the fact that any transgender person willing to pursue a military career in such an aggressively heteronormative environment must be extraordinarily brave. You can learn more about how President Trump has violated the US constitution and sign the petition for his impeachment here.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

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There are numerous factors, most of them cultural, that can impede education and training for LGBT people, and prevent them from reaching their full potential. Education, in all forms, is a particularly oppressive and unwelcoming place for sexual minorities. LGBT students are twice as vulnerable to verbal harassment and experience significantly higher rates of mental stress, with over 55% feeling unsafe in their learning environment.

While some LGBT students have taken to online learning and studied, for example, an operations manager degree online, there are still significant barriers to equality in the sphere of education. Moreover, 2011 study found that applicants who were open about their sexuality on their resumes were 40% less likely to be interviewed than heterosexual or cisgender people with similar skills and experience.

WORKPLACE CULTURE

An oppressive workplace culture can seriously undermine a worker’s productivity by around 30%, destroy their confidence and make them less likely to integrate into a team. For all the well meaning policies that the company may have in place, it is incumbent upon all colleagues to vivify these policies in their actions, or lose a talented and hard working colleague. Indeed, The Level Playing Field Institute highlighted in 2007 that LGBT employees were leaving the workplace due to unfairness at twice the rate of their heterosexual counterparts.

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