LGBT: Reflections on Workplace Impact

LGBT in Current News

Recently, there has been a large spotlight on the LGBT community and LGBT rights as a result of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States of America. This is a big step towards inclusion of all individuals, and equality of opportunity.  Same-sex marriage was legal in Canada before the US government passed this law, but it is important to reflect on this change to remind us of the value of this freedom and evaluate where progress still has to be made. Specifically, given the alarming statistics of mental health issues among LGBT individuals, it is important to understand the attitudes that may contribute to poor mental health outcomes in this population, especially in our workplaces where we spend most of our time.

Mental Health of Members of the LGBT Community

It is still an unfortunate reality that LGBT individuals face discrimination in various aspects of their daily lives, and that these struggles contribute to negative impacts on their mental health. Much of the research has found that individuals who identify as LGBT are more likely to experience mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression2,5. These issues in turn affect other domains of life such as work and education, which may help explain why LGBT people are over-represented in the low-income bracket in Canada6.  A report by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) found that many LGBT Canadians are afraid of disclosing information about their gender identity1. Workplace-related discrimination against LGBT people is not only present in Canada, but also around the world4.

What Does this Mean for Workplace Mental Health?

Firstly, there is already a struggle for people to “fit in” at work. Trying to land a job or maintaining good working relationships with our coworkers and supervisors is not just about having the right education or experience. The workplace is an environment where we have to portray ourselves in a way that we believe others will appreciate or connect with. Sometimes we want to show that we are hardworking or creative and work well on teams. Other times we notice that the workplace culture is easy-going and laidback, so we try to appeal to this by bragging about our leisure pursuits to show that we have a fun nature too.

The concept of adapting ourselves to our environments (including workplaces) is not a new or surprising phenomenon. However, as a result of such behaviour we are progressively disclosing less of our true selves.  For people in the LGBT community, this can be especially true. The job search and job interview is characterized by careful deliberation about how much to disclose about oneself and wondering whether things that aren’t said will be picked up on anyway. Careful presentation of oneself may thankfully land you the job, but the cautiousness cannot be abandoned yet. As you form relationships with your coworkers and supervisors you may realize that you cannot be fully open about who you are because others may look at you through a lens of values/beliefs that are not in line with yours, potentially causing conflict.

Take-Home Message

While the legalization of same-sex marriage and annual LGBT Pride celebrations allow people to believe that attitudinal changes are occurring, the struggle is not yet over. The previously mentioned statistics are current, meaning that workplace discrimination is still occurring and the needs of LGBT people to access supports continue to be unmet. As employers and employees we need to rethink our attitudes towards the people at our workplaces, and perhaps reconsider our hiring practices. More importantly, we need to create a culture of inclusion at work that would allow not only members of the LGBT community, but all individuals who are faced with discrimination, to feel free and safe to be who they are. For more reading on strategies workplaces can use to promote inclusion, check out this recent article from The Guardian

How does your workplace promote inclusion? Are there any policies/procedures already in place to address this issue?  What do you do as an individual to promote inclusion at work? 

 

References

1. Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (2015). In and out: Diverging perspectives on LGBT inclusion in the workplace. p. 1-35. Retrieved from http://www.ccdi.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/20150515-Report-LGBT-In-and-Out-Diverging-Perspectives-on-LGBT-Inclusion-in-the-Workplace.pdf

2. Cochran, S.D., Sullivan, J.G., & Mays, V.M. (2003). Prevalence of mental disorders, psychological distress, and mental health services use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 53-61.

3. G. Bauer, Boyce M, Coleman T, Kaay M, Scanlon K, Travers R. (2008). Who are trans people in Ontario? Toronto: Trans PULSE E-Bulletin; Report No.: 1(1).

4. IGLA Europe (2014). Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe 2014.

5. Omoto, A.M, Kurtzman, H.S., (Eds.) (2006). Sexual orientation and mental health: Examining identity and development in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Washington, DC: APA Books.

6. Tjepkema, M. (2008). Health care use among gay, lesbian and bisexual Canadians. Statistics Canada. Canada: Statistics Canada.