Being in the closet at work is bad for your health and your company


Not being comfortable to be out the closet at work is bad for everyone; negatively affecting the well-being and performance of LGBTIQ+ employees as well as the companies they work for.

A new study from Australia – seen as a generally LGBTIQ-accepting country – found that a whopping two thirds of LGBTIQ+ employees are not out to everyone with whom they work.

The report, Out at Work: From Prejudice to Pride, examined why LGBTIQ+ individuals share or conceal their identity or status at work and what organisations can do to make their workplace safe and inclusive for LGBTIQ+ workers to be themselves.

The research was released by Diversity Council Australia (DCA) in partnership with RMIT University, the Star Observer, Deloitte and QBE.

While 74% of LGBTIQ+ respondents said it was important to them to be able to be out at work, only 32% were out to everyone with whom they work. Just 16% of bisexual workers were out to everyone at work.

Those who aren’t out were twice as likely to feel down compared with employees who are out, and 45% less likely to be satisfied with their job.

Being out at work drives performance, said the researchers. LGBTIQ+ employees who are out to everyone at work are 50% more likely to innovate than workers who are not out to everyone, 35% more likely to work highly effectively in their team and 28% more likely to provide excellent customer service.

“Despite last year’s victory on marriage equality, a large proportion of LGBTIQ+ employees are still not comfortable being themselves at work,” said Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO. “And yet hiding who they are can be costly not only to their own well-being, but also to the organisations they work for and the broader Australian economy.”

The research found that employees in organisations that are highly LGBTIQ+ inclusive are at least twice as likely as employees in non-inclusive cultures to work effectively, innovate, and provide excellent customer service.

RMIT School of Management lecturer and Out at Work lead research investigator Dr Raymond Trau commented that while coming out at work is beneficial, it could have consequences. “This research highlights the complexities of coming out at work. It’s is an ongoing dilemma for many LGBTIQ+ workers, particularly when they start a new job or meet new coworkers. It means different things to different people,” Dr Trau said.

The researchers noted that important factors in allowing employees to be themselves at work include affirming and non-discriminatory policies, an inclusive corporate culture and strong and visible LGBTIQ leadership.

In South Africa, there is a growing move for companies, especially large corporates and multinationals, to support in-house LGBTIQ+ network employee groups to help ensure a safe, inclusive and equitable workplace.

The country’s first LGBT+ SA Workplace Equality Index (SAWEI), which will benchmark LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the South African workplace, is set to be released next month.

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