News: Survey Shows Coming Out at Work Still a Concern for LGBTQ+ Community

By Jane Kellogg Murray

Updated August 2, 2021 | Published May 31, 2021

Updated August 2, 2021

Published May 31, 2021

Jane Kellogg Murray is a senior editor for Indeed. Based in Vermont and living on a Christmas tree farm, she enjoys helping others find suitable work opportunities through Indeed’s Career Guide.

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Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that individuals are protected from job discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. In 2021, more companies than ever have committed to having more inclusive policies, practices and benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer employees and applicants. Still, however, bringing your authentic self to work can feel uncertain and confusing.

Indeed surveyed members of the LGBTQ+ community about the implications of coming out at work to learn more.¹ In this article, we share our key takeaways, including why 67% of respondents said that remote culture and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to come out at work.

Related: How to Talk About Race, Gender and Social Issues at Work

9 key takeaways from Indeed’s survey of LGBTQ+ employees

75% of our survey respondents say their company makes substantive changes based on employee feedback. With that at heart, here are the key takeaways we discovered in our survey:

Most LGBTQ+ people are out, happy and productive at work

Most respondents are already openly LGBTQ+ at work. Of the 491 people we surveyed, 68% are open about their gender identity and/or sexual orientation within their workplace. Of those, 72% came out at work within the past three years (including 39% who came out in the past year, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic), suggesting that recent civil rights progress may be helping individuals feel more protected. Another 24% of respondents are not openly LGBTQ+ at work, but indicated they might be willing to share with all or some colleagues in the future.

Moreso, our LGBTQ+ respondents—out or not—say they feel productive (90%), safe (88%) and happy (87%) at work. They feel valued by both their team (86%) and their supervisor (85%).

Reasons vary for those who don’t want to be openly LGBTQ+ at work

While many employers are working to make their companies a safe space for employees to be open about their gender identity and sexual orientation, 8% of respondents are not openly LGBTQ+ at work and don’t wish to be. Their reasoning varies:

  • 46% said it’s not relevant/not anyone’s business

  • 40% worry they could face discrimination from their boss

  • 39% fear it will be detrimental to their career

  • 37% worry they could face discrimination from peers

  • 32% fear they will be passed over for promotions

  • 27% don’t want to potentially alienate coworkers

  • 26% don’t want it to distract from their work

  • 15% worry they could be fired

  • 9% haven’t come out at work because they haven’t come out to anyone

LaFawn Davis, group vice president of Environmental, Social & Governance at Indeed, says that while it can be exhausting for people to hide their authentic selves from the professional world, it is sometimes still necessary. “I want everyone to be able to be out and proud, but it’s not always safe to do so—not just their physical safety, but also their emotional and mental well-being as well.”

For most people, remote work has made it more difficult to come out

While 24% of respondents said the switch to remote work did not affect their ability to come out at work, 9% said remote culture and social distancing actually made it easier to come out at work. For some, making vulnerable statements can feel easier from the safety of home, or when you can do so in writing or virtually behind a computer screen. Working remotely has also helped some transgender employees feel more confident as they transition away from team members.

However, the majority (67%) of respondents agreed that remote culture and social distancing during the pandemic made it more difficult to come out at work. This may be the result of a combination of factors: Remote work doesn’t offer as many opportunities for personal relationships to build among colleagues, and others still might be unable to reveal their authentic selves in their home environment.

“Oftentimes, people within the community code-switch,” a process that in this context describes when an LGBTQ+ individual changes how they speak, act and express themselves between personal and professional spaces. “It takes so much energy, so much emotional strength to do that,” Davis says.

Davis points out how problematic coming out at work has been for the LGBTQ+ individuals who have had to move back in with their parents or family members as a result of the pandemic: “When you code switch—when you have to be someone else or present as someone else—it really does impact your mental health. And now we’re in a space where it’s not just like walking into an office and do I come out, or do I not come out. Many of us are working from home, and that presents a different issue because you could be out at work and not out at home. Where can one be safe?”

Related: 4 Job Search Tips for Transgender and Non-Binary People

Discrimination or harassment is still happening

LGBTQ+ respondents also said they are treated differently (54%) or unfairly (41%) in their workplace compared to their straight/cisgender peers. Specifically, respondents have experienced harassment from coworkers (42%) or their boss (41%) related to their LGBTQ+ identity. Discrimination from coworkers (43%) or their boss (44%) is also prevalent. 49% say they have heard or read intentionally hurtful anti-LGBTQ+ remarks in their workplace, and another 52% report having heard or read anti-LGBTQ+ slurs in their workplace.

Related: How to Identify and Deal With a Hostile Work Environment

Reporting discrimination or harassment doesn’t always lead to positive change

A formidable 84% of those who experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace related to their LGBTQ+ identity reported the incident(s) to the appropriate representative. However, less than half saw a result:

  • 48% of companies updated their policies or re-communicated it to employees

  • 46% of companies disciplined the aggressor

  • 40% of companies fired the aggressor

  • 38% of companies required the aggressor to attend DEI training

  • 34% of companies required other coworkers to attend DEI training as well

  • 32% of companies demoted the aggressor

As for the people who experienced LGBTQ+ discrimination or harassment in the workplace and didn’t report it, they refrained from doing so because they feared being blamed (55%), were afraid of being outed (55%), feared retaliation (36%), didn’t believe it would be taken seriously (29%), were unsure of the appropriate representative to report to (24%), were reluctant to disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (24%) or they feared it would make the situation even worse (14%).

Zero-tolerance policies are working

Still, 86% of respondents say harassment and discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation are taken seriously at their company, with 71% saying their company has a zero-tolerance policy for these types of offenses. 77% of respondents say their company has clearly communicated protocols in place for reporting harassment and discrimination. So it seems that having a firm policy in place has prevented much of the harassment and discrimination from happening in the first place.

When it comes to pronouns, most get it right

60% of respondents have communicated with others in their workplace about their pronouns. Of those respondents, 81% said that almost everyone at the company has been respectful about using their pronouns.

Of the respondents who said that others in their workplace were not always respectful about using their pronouns, it’s because their coworkers (68%) or their boss (58%) have forgotten. However, some say their coworkers (37%) or their boss (12%) intentionally or repeatedly use the wrong pronouns.

56% say their company actively encourages employees to specify their pronouns in places like company media, email signatures or social media profiles. Alternatively, 37% say pronouns are not discussed, but 7% say their company culture discourages them from doing so.

Related: How To Handle Microaggressions in the Workplace

Employee benefits could be more inclusive

“One of the first things a company can do is make sure that benefits are really actually inclusive,” Davis says. 65% of our survey respondents say their company has an LGBTQ+-inclusive benefits package, such as:

  • a benefit extension to domestic partners (52%)

  • a benefit extension to same-sex couples (49%)

  • medical leave for transitional procedures (46%)

  • parental leave (43%)

  • adoption leave (36%)

  • adoption assistance (35%)

  • transitional procedure coverage (19%)

  • counseling and/or resources for employees struggling with gender identity or sexual orientation (63%)

Respondents who say their company doesn’t have an inclusive benefits package feel that things are unequal when it comes to benefit extension to their partners (53%), parental leave (39%), medical benefits (30%) and medical leave (24%).

Performative allyship isn’t enough

For some respondents, the difference between a company’s public messaging and its internal actions is apparent. While 78% said their company represents itself as celebrating diversity and being inclusive when it comes to issues affecting LGBTQ+ employees, 74% of those respondents said their company is only concerned with the appearance of being inclusive than it is with making real, impactful changes. Only 26% of those respondents said their company truly prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion with focused initiatives and progress tracking.

“We call that being performative, when it’s just putting out a statement and changing their logo to a rainbow,” Davis says. “That’s great, that’s showing outwardly as part of your brand that you support the community. But that’s all it is: a statement. It’s not necessarily action. And those actions, your employees and your consumers will feel, because it is far beyond just the logo change during the month of June.” In addition to a more inclusive benefits package, here are other internal changes that are sometimes overlooked:

  • 58% of respondents said their workplace provides gender-neutral bathrooms.

  • 69% of respondents said their workplace has a gender-neutral dress code.

  • 59% of respondents say their company has an employee-led LGBTQ+ resource group.

  • 63% of respondents say their company avoids the use of gendered language on official communication and/or forms.

  • 64% of respondents say their company required diversity, equity and/or inclusion training for all employees.

Related: 5 Steps To Become a Better Ally at Work

¹ Indeed survey, n=491 working full-time in the U.S. who identify as LGBTQ+

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