For LGBTQ workers of color, sexual orientatio­n is main driver of bias

Survey: Companies should stand up

- Charisse Jones

While race and gender remain prime targets for bias, people of color who are also gay, lesbian or bisexual say sexual orientatio­n is the biggest driver of discrimina­tion they face in the workplace, according to a new study shared exclusivel­y with USA TODAY.

Among Black LGB employees, 34% said they believed sexual orientatio­n was the main reason for the discrimina­tion they experience­d on the job, compared with 36% of Latinos, 42% of Asians and 32% of Native American workers who felt the same, according to a survey conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics.

“We found across lines of race that there was agreement ... sexual orientatio­n was the biggest liability in terms of the discrimina­tion experience­d,’’ says Deena Fidas, managing director and chief program and partnershi­ps officer for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, which collaborat­ed with IBV on a related survey.

A recent wave of anti LGBTQ+ legislatio­n may be a key reason some workers see such discrimina­tion as their biggest threat.

State lawmakers have introduced more than 250 bills this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, including legislatio­n that would prohibit transgende­r students from taking part in sports or bar teachers from talking about the LGBTQ community in the classroom. Eighteen of the bills have become law or are waiting for a governor’s signature.

“In the United States ... we still don’t have consistent federal civil right protection­s on the basis of sexual orientatio­n and gender identity,” Fidas says, adding that while there is still more work to do to ensure equity along lines of race, gender and ability, there is at least a basic legal framework prohibitin­g discrimina­tion in the workplace based on those characteri­stics. “The LGBTQ+ community simply doesn’t have that.’’

Still, LGBTQ+ employees say they often face biases aimed at multiple aspects of their identity. And for people of color, who felt sexual orientatio­n was the primary reason they encountere­d discrimina­tion, race wasn’t far behind.

Among Black employees who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, 27% said race was the main driver of discrimina­tion in the workplace, the most of any group. That was compared with 22% of Latino employees and 17% of Asian workers who felt the same.

Meanwhile, 29% of Native American employees said that gender was the primary cause of their experience­s with discrimina­tion, second only to sexual orientatio­n.

Employees of color believe the combinatio­n of biases they face hinder their ability to rise in the workplace.

While 50% of those who were lesbian, gay or bisexual believed people who share the same race, gender and sexual orientatio­n as them were less successful than Americans overall, 70% of African Americans who identified as LGB felt that combinatio­n of traits was an obstacle.

Among Native Americans, the number dipped slightly to 67%, while 57% of Latinos, 56% of Asians, and 18% of whites who were LGB believed people who shared those same three characteri­stics were less successful.

Employees who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual also had a more difficult time juggling remote work with their caretaking responsibi­lities during the pandemic, with 43% saying it was a challenge as compared with 34% of non-LGB workers.

That may be because employees who hid parts of their identity at the office now found themselves having to put their home life on display via Zoom, says Ella Slade, IBM’s Global LGBT+ Leader.

“You see their partner in the background, or a rainbow flag hung in the home,” Slade says. “That can add a lot of stress.”

Or, an employee may have been “out at work,” but during the pandemic they quarantine­d with friends and family who were not aware of their identity or gender expression.

“That creates difficulti­es,” Slade says.

But the business community has taken steps to be more welcoming and inclusive, LGBTQ+ advocates say, partly because their employees demand it.

Nearly 9 in 10 workers say their employer or company should be a stronger public supporter of LGBTQ+ inclusion, according to IBV, which held an event in the spring with Out & Equal and Workplace Pride to gain insights about the experience­s of the LGBTQ+ community.

Meghan Stabler has seen the difference between working for a company that is uncomforta­ble with her expressing her true gender identity, and one that is accepting.

After she began transition­ing in 2004 while working as an executive for a tech company in Houston, Stabler was gradually stripped of responsibi­lities and demoted.

“I wasn’t allowed to meet with customers anymore,’’ she says. “I wasn’t allowed to be the executive that was talking product strategy … There was a fear if I did so, we would lose customers.’’

When Stabler began looking for a new position, she still struggled, barely getting a call back as she applied to about 65 positions over two years. In 2018, she was hired by BigCommerc­e and she felt liberated.

“I don’t have to have a layer of protective­ness or shell around me,’’ she says.

Despite the struggles she had dealt with, Stabler says, “I’ve been lucky. I have white privilege … It is detrimenta­lly worse for Black trans people in the workplace.”

To create equitable workspaces, businesses should make sure the corporate leadership pipeline includes people who represent the LGBTQ+ community, Slade says. Communicat­ing and enforcing anti-discrimina­tion policies, incorporat­ing practices such as the recognitio­n of an employee’s chosen pronouns, and advocating for civil rights legislatio­n are also key.

When a company takes a visible stand against legislatio­n that would ban people from using a bathroom that correspond­s with their gender identity and similar proposals, “it sends a huge message,” Slade says, “not only to those lawmakers and local government­s, but to your own employees.”

 ??  ?? Meghan Stabler says that as a transgende­r woman, her current company's acceptance means she doesn't have to wrap herself in a protective shell.
Meghan Stabler says that as a transgende­r woman, her current company's acceptance means she doesn't have to wrap herself in a protective shell.

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