Workplace Discrimination: The LGBT Workforce

By Kurina Baksh
Last updated: May 2, 2017
Key Takeaways

LGBT employees continue to face workplace discrimination and harassment. Creating an inclusive working environment is, therefore, imperative.

According to global statistics, LGBT individuals are one of the demographics that suffer the most from discrimination. Among American LGBT workers, 21 percent report having been victims of employment discrimination, whether in terms of hiring, salary, or promotions. Moreover, one in 25 workplace discrimination complaints concern the treatment of LGBT employees.


Workplace discrimination, then, continues to be a serious problem, and creating an inclusive workplace for LGBT employees is imperative.

Who Is Part of the LGBT Workforce?

LGBT is an initialism that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. Any worker whose sexual orientation or gender identity falls under these categories, then, is a member of the LGBT workforce.


LGBT individuals make up a sizeable portion of American workers. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, approximately four percent of the working population identifies as at least one of the categories that fall under the LGBT banner.

Common Issues for LGBT Employees

Some common workplace issues include:

  • Inadequate legal protection – Laws and regulations offer a varying degree of protection across different countries. India, for example, still has Colonial-era laws against same-sex relations, making legal protection from workplace discrimination impossible. Moreover, in some states, certain institutions (like churches or religious schools) are exempt from anti-discrimination laws and can fire transgender employees on the basis of gender identity.
  • Discrimination during the job interview – European studies have found that about 20 percent of LGBT applicants believed they experienced discrimination while looking for employment.
  • Remaining closeted at work out of fear – Some LGBT employees prefer not to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity at work because of the worry that it would lead to uneasy relationships with coworkers or being passed over for promotions. Statistics show that mover than one-third of LGBT employees lie about their personal lives at work.
  • Unwelcoming work environments – Nearly one out of ten LGBT employee has left a job because of an unwelcoming work environment.
  • Even compared to their LGB colleagues, transgender employees face more employment issues – Transgender workers face twice as much employment discrimination and approximately 90 percent of transgender American workers experience mistreatment on the job.

The Major Challenge for LGBT People in the Workplace

While major legal victories, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states and countries, signal progress, many employees still fear reprisal and negative consequences if they reveal their sexuality or gender identity at work. With an estimated 40 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees, and a staggering 97 percent of transgender employees, experiencing workplace harassment and discrimination, those worries are not unfounded.

The Value of LGBT Equality in the Workplace

Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse with employees of different sex, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Having a diverse workforce can be highly beneficial to both the employer and the employee.

Benefits for LGBT Employees

Policies that support LGBT employees will result in less discrimination and an increase in openness about being LGBT. According to the Williams Institute, LGBT employees who spend a significant amount of time and effort hiding their true identity in the workplace tend to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. An LGBT friendly work environment would therefore positively impact on health, job satisfaction, and relationships with co-workers.


Benefits for Employers

The first and most significant benefits to employers would be a reduction in legal costs related to discrimination lawsuits. Furthermore, by adopting and implementing LGBT-inclusive policies, the company will be viewed as socially responsible and, therefore, attract more customers and investors. LGBT employees who feel comfortable being themselves and feel accepted in their workplace will also be more likely remain in their job positions. As such, companies will spend less on recruiting and training new individuals. Moreover, a diverse and open workplace increases creativity, leading to innovation and an increase in productivity.

Creating Inclusive Workplaces for LGBT Employees: Recommendations for Employers

Organizations that aim to maintain a competitive advantage must foster a workplace where all employees can succeed. To create an inclusive workplace for LGBT employees, employers should consider the following strategies:

1. Develop and implement equal opportunity policies that should:

  • Allow equal opportunities for employees regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Outline procedures for LGBT-related bullying and harassment, as well as workplace complaints

2. Provide diversity training to raise awareness among all employees regarding LGBT issues. One of the biggest challenges regarding the acceptance of the LGBT workforce is the lack of awareness and understanding about the LGBT lifestyle and issues.

3. Set up an internal structure for the way LGBT inclusion is encouraged, that is:

  • Ensure that there is a person or team that is responsible for addressing LGBT issues
  • Establish and provide support for an LGBT employee network

4. Offer the same benefits to LGBT employees or offer LGBT-specific benefits, such as counseling or mentoring

5. Engage in LGBT-specific efforts in the community and advocate for LGBT workplace equality

Coming out in the Workplace

Deciding to come out at work is an individual and personal decision. An LGBT employee will consider the disadvantages and benefits before making such a decision. Therefore, without an inclusive environment, LGBT employees may not feel comfortable enough to make that decision. Organizations, then, may not be aware of the diversity that already exists in their workplace. Hence, diversity and inclusion are mutually reinforcing—the more inclusive the work environment, the more likely that organization will become the employer of choice for the LGBT workforce.

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Written by Kurina Baksh

Kurina Baksh

Kurina Baksh is a Health, Safety and Environment Professional from Trinidad and Tobago. As a recent graduate in the field, she is trained to analyze and advise on a wide range of issues related to her area of expertise. Currently, she is an independent consultant who develops public outreach and education programmes for an international clientele. She strongly believes that increasing public outreach and education can promote hazard awareness and ultimately save lives.

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