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‘Striving for Authenticity’ Study Reveals Discriminatory Tendencies


The results from a new IBM study aren’t good news for diversity and inclusion.

Despite a year of intense global focus on social justice issues, nearly half of lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans recently surveyed by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) said they believe their employers discriminate against people of their sexual orientation.

The new IBM study, “Striving for Authenticity,” conducted with Out & Equal Workplace Advocates and Workplace Pride, also found that discrimination is more pronounced where race, gender, and sexual orientation intersect. Across all surveyed racial identity groups, lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents see their sexual orientation as the primary driver of the discrimination they’ve personally experienced in the workplace.

A global IBM study of CEOs from earlier this year showed only 17% of CEOs surveyed ranked diversity and inclusion among the most important organizational attributes for engaging employees.

“There is much more corporations can do to support LGBT+ people’s career aspirations and allow them to bring their full selves to work,” said Ella Slade, global LGBT+ leader for Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM. “Empathetic leadership and support for employees’ mental health with programs like Safe Spaces to Talk— which give employees in the LGBT+ community and others a safe place for sharing their experiences and gaining support — can help especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“What we’re seeing is an authenticity gap. Too many LGBT+ people can’t show up as their authentic selves at work without facing negative consequences,” said Deena Fidas, chief program and partnerships officer for Out & Equal, an organization that works exclusively on LGBTQ workplace equality. “Too many can’t express their true gender identity. We are shining a light on this problem and providing employers with a roadmap they can use to address it.”

The study found that 74% of Black lesbian, gay and bisexual women surveyed believe their identity group is less successful than the general population. By contrast, among White men surveyed who did not identify as gay or bisexual, that figure drops to 4%.

In addition, while almost half of White lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents say they have experienced some discrimination based on their sexual orientation, only 4% of respondents say they were discriminated against to a very great extent. For lesbian, gay and bisexual People of Color surveyed, this figure is closer to 20%.

According to the study, LGBT+ people continue to be underrepresented on executive teams in the U.S. — only 7% of senior executives surveyed identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. In addition, more than two in three lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents reported they don’t feel equipped to overcome professional challenges, and nearly two in three respondents said they have had to work harder to succeed because of aspects of their identity.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic’s massive shift to remote work and school affected many professionals with caregiver responsibilities, 43% of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents said they have struggled balancing working from home with taking care of other family members amid the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 34% of non-lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents.

The study provides recommendations on how organizations can help make sustainable progress in creating more inclusive workplaces, including:

Fill the LGBT+ Leadership Pipeline

Corporate sponsorship and mentorship programs can elevate the voices of out members of the community and begin to address the LGBT+ leadership gap, the study said.

Set Clear Expectations for Employees

Communicate the need for respect and the business value of belonging in the workplace, and ensure leaders understand intersectionality — how different layers of oppression overlap in people’s lives, according to the study. Organizations can offer guidance on how to use inclusive language, such as gender-neutral pronouns. A poll conducted during the Global LGBT+ Innovation Jam found that 82% of participants surveyed said they feel more comfortable at work when other employees display their pronouns in e-mail signatures and/or on messaging platforms.

Institute Non-Discrimination Policies and Practices

From gender-neutral restrooms and dress codes to LGBT+-friendly family -eave policies, corporate offerings can help create a more equal workplace, the study found. Leaders should conduct regular “equity” reviews of employer-provided benefits, including transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage, family benefits, retirement, travel and relocation and more.

Use Brand Eminence as a Tool for Positive Change

Leverage the power of the corporate brand to support LGBT+ rights around the world, the study said.

The “Striving for Authenticity” study polled more than 6,000 U.S.-based professionals, including 700 individuals who self-identified as gay or lesbian (73%) or bisexual (27%). Twenty-four percent of respondents identified as Black, 24% as Hispanic, 24% as White, 24% as Pan-Asian and 4% as Native American.

The full IBV study is available at https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/institute-business-value/report/lgbt-inclusion