LGBT Issues in the Workplace

Equality in the workplace is a key priority for the approximately 170,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the Irish workforce. While there has been huge social and legislative progress for LGB people in Ireland over the last 20 years, a majority of LGBT employees still do not feel it is safe to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity at work generally.

Challenges in the Workplace

Many workplaces are not yet fully inclusive of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees. 1 in 4 LGBT employees surveyed have been verbally abused at some stage in their careers on the basis of their LGBT identity. LGBT employees regularly have to decide if disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity in a particular work context will negatively impact their working lives.

Certain employment sectors are still perceived to be difficult places to work in if you are LGBT. Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Acts allows religious employers in for example the education and health sectors, to discriminate against employees if the employer can show that it needs to discriminate against certain employees to protect its religious ethos. Given the official discriminatory position of many religions to LGBT people, and despite the protections afforded under the Unfair Dismissal Act, many LGBT teachers do not feel it is safe to be "out" at work.

Coming Out in the Workplace

"Coming out" describes the process of understanding and disclosing one's sexual orientation or gender identity. Disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity, be one straight or gay, male or female is part of the daily fabric of working life.

We all regularly share personal information about our lives with colleagues and clients which indicates our sexual orientation or gender identity e.g. family situation, holiday plans, caring responsibilities, relationships, friends, clothing etc. Most heterosexual or cisgender* employees routinely share this information. However many LGBT employees are afraid to do so for fear of the negative impact of disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2009 survey found that less than half of LGBT employees surveyed were out generally in their workplaces (Mayock et al, 2009). This may be because of inadequate company policies and procedures, negative workplace culture and/or previous negative experiences at work, at home or in the community.

"We need to be able to come out in a safe environment. It doesn't feel safe. You cover your private life all the time; you cover it. It is a deadening experience no to be out. You don't talk spontaneously in the staffroom about your social life. I'm always censoring myself. Everyone else talks about their partners. I've been in a relationship for eight years, and I have never once mentioned my partner in school" Elizabeth, teacher.

Deciding whether to "come out" at work is always an individual and personal decision. LGBT people will consider the benefits and disadvantages of coming out in a particular workplace.

The benefits can include:

  • Feeling more confident at work. Fostering openness and stronger relationships with colleagues and clients.
  • Not having to worry about being "outed" and wasting energy having to cover up an intrinsic part of one's life.
  • People perform better when they can be themselves: US research found that LGB respondents who were "out" in safe work places earned 50% more than LGB people who were not out.

"For me, being able to "out" in a work environment that is free from discrimination, has made work a much healthier and positive experience" Margot Slattery, Managing Director, Sodexo

*Cisgender: A non-trans person (i.e. a person whose gender identity and gender expression is aligned with the sex assigned at birth)

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