OPINION: LGBTQ+ identity is not a priority for job seekers, yet they still fear coming out

by Junko Takagi | @essec | ESSEC
Thursday, 18 May 2023 07:00 GMT

A man works at a desk in an office building in the City of London financial district, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London, Britain, July 30, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Coming out at work is stressful, but out LGBTQ+ workers are happier and more productive

Junko Takagi is a teaching professor and the chaired professor of the ESSEC Leadership and Diversity Chair at ESSEC Business School

Looking for a job can be a stressful time for anyone. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, however, it can also bring other stress factors.

The workplace is often a complex environment for LGBTQ+ people. Most firms are firmly embedded in heteronormativity, meaning that there is an assumption that everyone is straight.

So, how are LGBTQ+ graduates handling this part of their identity in the workplace?

As an invisible minority, meaning that their peers may not be aware that they are part of a minority group, LGBTQ+ staff are faced with the decision to either keep that part of themselves private or share that aspect of their personal life at work. Then, they must decide with whom to share that information.

A study by Stonewall found that in Britain, 35% of LGBTQ+ people hide their sexuality from colleagues due to fear of discrimination.

Drawing on this, a study by think-tank Centre for Work-Life shows that coming out at work has positive psychological consequences, compared to staying “in the closet”. Coming out can help employees to flourish in work, but fear of discrimination makes that incredibly difficult.

By concealing their LGBTQ+ identity, employees can feel that their feelings of belongingness, job satisfaction and self-esteem are much lower.

Unfortunately, a large proportion of LGBTQ+ employees still choose not to come out at work, due to the stigma they may face.

Reported incidents of workplace discrimination continue to build up, with research from Stonewall showing that LGBTQ+ professionals are more likely to experience harassment and career limitations compared to their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts.

Naturally, these experiences are something that professionals would prefer to avoid.

In an ongoing study, we have been investigating how recent LGBTQ+ graduates of a Masters in Management programme have been narrating their transition into becoming young professional, and the role of their LGBTQ+ identity within this process.

As most people will remember, the transition from a young student entering into a new workplace and the beginning of your career can be difficult to navigate. Throwing in the added difficulties of managing – or hiding – your sexuality ot gender identity throughout the process is naturally stressful.

Interestingly, the case for sexual identity in the workplace is not as cut and dry as one may have expected.

For many new graduates, their LGBTQ+ identity was not as important as other, more salient aspects of their identities. For example, young professionals may focus more on their international identity. Some studies suggest that this is a major barrier in the job search. This side of their identity, unlike their LGBTQ+ identity, is obvious.

Employers may not hire someone of a different nationality due to fears of language difficulties.

Due to these sides of their identity taking the main focus, their LGBTQ+ identity often takes a backseat and becomes less important. However, for young graduates, finding a diversity-friendly workplace still proved to be of high importance.

Nobody wants to work in a hostile work environment.

Many of us will test the water with recruiters and interviewers by asking about the work environment, and LGBTQ+ job seekers will often do something similar. Some will list LGBTQ+ associations that they support on their LinkedIn pages, others will research the policies of companies.

Companies can learn from this research tactic.

They should ensure that strong policies are in place to ensure that if their LGBTQ+ employees choose to come out, they feel protected and safe to do so. This way, they will feel more connected to the company and the team, benefitting both the individual and the company as a whole.

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