Employers can still do more to include and support lesbian and gay employees in the workplace, according to a new study commissioned by Telus.
The survey of 814 Canadians (half of whom identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer) reveals that about one-third of respondents don’t find their workplace safe and inclusive for lesbian and gay employees, while 45 per cent echoed the same opinion in regards to transgender employees.
These results don’t surprise Colin Druhan, executive director of Pride at Work Canada. According to Druhan, “people don’t understand that a lot of the [discrimination] that happens in the workplace isn’t necessarily overt. . . . It’s more insidious or ingrained in the workplace culture.”
Forms of discrimination include employees making assumptions about lesbian, gay and transgender employees, using inappropriate language or subconsciously overlooking people for work promotions because of their gender or sexual identity, says Druhan.
While many employers have created policies to address the issues, that alone doesn’t seem sufficient. The Telus study found that 57 per cent of respondents said they’re not fully out at work, with 22 per cent of them worried about a hostile work environment; 15 per cent concerned about losing out on career opportunities; and 10 per cent worried about personal safety.
“That, to me, points to an issue of culture, more than anything else,” says Druhan. “Many employers have policies on inclusion, but the practice has not necessarily caught up in all workplaces.”
Some employers are going beyond creating policies. The Royal Bank of Canada makes a point to educate all employees with a learning module and supports lesbian, gay and transgender employees through resource and networking groups. As well, the bank takes part in community events and publicly opposes laws around the world that suppress gay rights.
“It’s really important, when we look at all the different dimensions of diversity, that we include LGBTQ,” says Norma Tombari, senior director of global diversity and inclusion at RBC. “From a business perspective, to win in the market, you have to hire the market.”
According to the Telus study, organizations that make an effort to support the gay community fare better in recruiting talent: 56 per cent of Canadians and 86 per cent of lesbian, gay and transgender Canadians are more likely to consider working for those companies.
Echoing that theory, Tombari says RBC’s efforts have resulted in increased positive feedback from annual employee surveys and engagement of lesbian, gay and transgender employees in professional development and networking events.