Coming out in the workplace

Downtown Calgary

A lack of education and openness in Canadian workspaces could account for a high percentage of straight Canadian workers who don’t think that it is important for LGBTQ+ to be ‘out’ in the workplace. Businesses could change this by implementing programs and guidelines to further educate employers on LGBTQ+ issues.

A recent study issued by the Canadian Centre of Diversity and Inclusion showed that 42.2 per cent of straight identifying employees do not believe that it is important for an LGBTQ+ person to be ‘out’ in their workplace.

Melodie Sanford, a registered psychologist who specializes in many areas including LGBTQ+ issues says that this number may be explained by underlying homophobia and transphobia that still exists within the Canadian workforce.

Bruce McDonald, the co-founder and chair of the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce says, “likely it’s a lack of education, a lack of exposure to people in the community or people in the workplace that are part of the LGBTQ community.”

Somebody who does not feel comfortable being themselves at work will likely be less productive and less involved with their coworkers. This puts them at risk for being passed over for promotions.

“The conversation around the water cooler, you know, ‘what did you do on the weekend?’ If you can only tell half the story, you’re watching your pronouns, you might seem aloof so you might not be as included in the company,” said McDonald, whose organization strives to support and create networks for LGBTQ+ or allied businesses and professionals.

According to Sanford, “people who identify as straight don’t realize how much hiding goes on for somebody who can’t be honest and open about who they are completely.”Pride flagThe study by the Canadian Centre of Diversity and Inclusion also showed that 8.6 per cent of the LGBTQ+ community did not disclose their sexual orientation to others at work and 25.4 percent did not disclose their gender identity. Photo courtesy of Benson Kua under Creative Commons License.

One way to make Canadian workplaces more inclusive is to educate employers about what harassment is and the legislation that is in place to protect LGBTQ+ identifying people from discrimination.

Colin Druhan, executive director of Pride at Work Canada, says, “We always encourage the employers that we work with to take some leadership there and make sure that it’s well known within the organization that they have policies that not only reflect the legal reality in Canada but their corporate values. So we work with a number of organizations that have made LGBT inclusion part of their corporate values and they do everything they can to promote that within the company.”

Druhan, whose group provides businesses with tools to help foster an open-minded work environment, encourages employers to create visual representations of their commitment to inclusiveness in the workplace.

For example, employers could create a day to wear a colored shirt symbolizing their zero tolerance policy for workplace discrimination. That would be similar to the anti-bullying Pink Shirt Day.

Days like these can help educate people who might not realize the language they use is derogatory or offensive towards a member of the LGBTQ+ community. That, in turn, makes it easier for an LGBTQ+ person to feel confident and comfortable in their work environment.

Druhan said, “everybody has a responsibility to create inclusive culture and if you’re not creating a culture that you know, affirms that ‘yes, this is a safe place for people to be out and be themselves,’ then you’re not actually creating culture that’s going to encourage people to come out.”

The editor responsible for this article is Curtis Dowhaniuk,

Thumbnail courtesy of davebloggs007 under Creative Commons License.

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