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LGBT+ discrimination in workplaces remains high – IBM study

Discrimination is more pronounced where race, gender and sexual orientation intersect. Across all surveyed racial identity groups, LGB respondents see their sexual orientation as the primary driver of the discrimination they’ve personally experienced in the workplace.

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Nearly half of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people surveyed by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) stated they believed that their employer discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation.

The study, “Striving for authenticity”, conducted by IBM with Out & Equal Workplace Advocates and Workplace Pride, also found that discrimination is more pronounced where race, gender and sexual orientation intersect. Across all surveyed racial identity groups, LGB respondents see their sexual orientation as the primary driver of the discrimination they’ve personally experienced in the workplace.

It is worth noting that a global IBM study of CEOs from earlier this year showed only 17% of CEOs surveyed ranked diversity and inclusion among the most important organizational attributes for engaging employees.

“There is much more corporations can do to support LGBT+ people’s career aspirations and allow them to bring their full selves to work,” said Ella Slade, IBM global LGBT+ leader. “Empathetic leadership and support for employees’ mental health with programs like Safe Spaces to Talk – which give employees in the LGBT+ community and others a safe place for sharing their experiences and gaining support – can help especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Discrimination and race lines

The study found that 74% of Black LGB people surveyed believe their identity group is less successful than the general population. By contrast, among White men surveyed who did not identify as gay or bisexual, that figure drops to 4%.

In addition, while almost half of White LGB respondents say they have experienced some discrimination based on their sexual orientation, only 4% of the respondents say they were discriminated against to a very great extent. For LGB People of Color surveyed, this figure is closer to 20%.

Better support for LGBT+ professionals’ career growth is critical

According to the study, LGBT+ people continue to be underrepresented on executive teams, with only 7% of senior executives surveyed identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. In addition, more than two in three LGB respondents reported they don’t feel equipped to overcome professional challenges, and nearly two in three respondents said they have had to work harder to succeed because of aspects of their identity.

Burden of COVID-19

Though the COVID-19 pandemic’s massive shift to remote work and school affected many professionals with caregiver responsibilities, 43% of LGB respondents said they have struggled balancing working from home with taking care of other family members amid the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 34% of non-LGB respondents.

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Actions needed

The study provides recommendations on how organizations can help make sustainable progress in creating more inclusive workplaces:

  • Fill the LGBT+ leadership pipeline. Corporate sponsorship and mentorship programs can elevate the voices of out members of the community and begin to address the LGBT+ leadership gap.
  • Set clear expectations for employees. Communicate the need for respect and the business value of belonging in the workplace, and ensure leaders understand intersectionality—how different layers of oppression overlap in people’s lives. Organizations can offer guidance on how to use inclusive language, such as gender-neutral pronouns.
  • Institute non-discrimination policies and practices. From gender-neutral restrooms and dress codes to LGBT+-friendly family leave policies, corporate offerings can help create a more equal workplace. Leaders should conduct regular “equity” reviews of employer-provided benefits, including transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage, family benefits, retirement, travel and relocation, and more.
  • Use brand eminence as a tool for positive change. Leverage the power of the corporate brand to support LGBT+ rights around the world. For example, partner with trade associations and NGOs, issue position statements, and directly lobby to further LGBT+ rights around the world.


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