The word love, with the letter O replaced by a heart with rainbow colors, representing diversity
Modern Workplaces Can Be Tough For LGBTQ+ People — Here’s Why and What Can Be Done
The word love, with the letter O replaced by a heart with rainbow colors, representing diversity

Modern Workplaces Can Be Tough For LGBTQ+ People — Here’s Why and What Can Be Done

Diversity is strength. This isn’t a catchphrase, it’s a fact. Study after study has shown that diversity leads to increased revenue and profits. That’s the business case for diversity. The human case is that everyone in your workplace should feel comfortable enough to be their authentic self, and everyone’s voice should have equal weight.

June is pride month. At Unito, we strive to make our company a great place to work for everyone. That’s because our mission is uniting work across teams, tools, organizations, and people, and our culture needs to reflect that as well. We’ve made strides to make this more of a reality, but we still have a long way to go. Here is a breakdown of the challenges and obstacles still faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community at work, what we’re doing about them, and what still needs to happen.

Wage and employment gaps

You’ve likely already heard of the wage gap between men and women. But did you know that a similar disparity exists between cishet people (who are both cisgender and heterosexual) and members of the LGBTQ+ community? A 2011 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law showed that one in four LGBTQ+ employees reported discriminatory treatment in the workplace, often leading to a loss of employment. Similarly, other research has shown a strong gap in wages, where members of the LGBTQ+ community make less than cishet men.

This gap can have impacts on employee engagement, advancement opportunities, and an employee’s ability to be fully themselves at work.

What can be done now

At Unito, we’ve worked hard to reduce the impacts of discrimination and biases — conscious and unconscious — on salaries. There are a few ways we’ve done this:

  • Salaries are 100% transparent: Not only can every employee know the salary of a specific role and seniority, but they know how much their coworkers make. Having access to this information is crucial for making changes to how certain roles are compensated, but it also gives everyone the ability to spot discrepancies or voice their concerns.
  • Salaries are completely equal: We’ve eliminated salary negotiation. Every single person with the same role and seniority level makes the same salary. No one negotiates for their salary.
  • Conversations around growth are streamlined company-wide: Putting the onus on employees to start conversations about potential raises or their career growth creates inequality. Many members of the LGBTQ+ community view their gender or orientation as an obstacle to further advancement. That can make it hard to advocate for yourself. At Unito, we’ve streamlined the process with a universal set of criteria. Managers are encouraged to create a growth plan for their reports based on these criteria. Growth plans are frequently revisited in one-on-one meetings so an employee always knows where they’re at in their journey.

If you want to implement transparent salaries in your organization, you can check out our Better Workplace Toolkit. We have templates for doing just that.

What still needs to happen

While salary transparency and equalization are great first steps, they’re not the finish line. These things alone cannot completely eradicate disparities in wages and career advancement. One example of a measure we’ve taken at Unito was adjusting salaries for roles that are traditionally considered female, to offset biases in the data we used to first decide on these salaries. This kind of adjustment may be appropriate to your situation, it might not be. But it’s indicative of the continual improvement and progress that’s necessary to achieve equality in the workplace.

Obstacles to authenticity

It’s each person’s choice whether they want to come out at work and when they do so. But it can be tough for a cishet person to understand the challenges that are coupled with coming out at work. One of these is not being able to anticipate the reactions of your coworkers. Another is having to do it multiple times.

In a 2019 survey of LGBTQ+ employees, 50% reported having to come out at work at least once a week. This is continual emotional labor that comes with potentially disastrous consequences — some people still react very poorly, and that risk always exists. No wonder 17% of those surveyed never came out at work.

Even after coming out, not everyone feels like they can be themselves at work, or like they can fully express who they are.

What can be done now

Create spaces where LGBTQ+ people can be themselves and among themselves. Spaces where they can speak about the challenges they face, unique aspects of their identity, or whatever else they need to say without worrying that someone will ask them an awkward question or say something insulting — purposefully or not.

At Unito, we use Slack channels for this. Some are public, where everyone is welcome to join, observe, and take part in conversations. Others are private. One example is a channel exclusive to women, non-binary, and gender-queer people, where they control the space and can talk about whatever is on their mind without worrying about what a man might think or say. Having these channels is not exclusionary. It’s crucial when so many other spaces are designed in ways that favor certain groups.

What still needs to happen

The eventual environment we all need to strive for — even at Unito — is one where people of certain groups can speak and express themselves authentically. This without being talked over or dismissed by someone that doesn’t necessarily understand their experience, no matter the space they’re in.

LGBTQ+ people are a group with concerns and experiences that both overlap and differ from the other groups in your workplace. This can include different values surrounding community participation and service, or different notions of family, life markers, and cultural references. These differences can trigger awkward conversations or oversights everywhere from the lunchroom to career planning with managers. And these differences aren’t necessarily the same for every member of the LGBTQ+ community.

That’s why it’s important to work towards a future where this is more widely understood.

Of the world’s 195 countries, only 81 have laws prohibiting discrimination in employment because of sexual orientation. Fewer have laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. Even in the countries that have these laws in place, there aren’t always provisions ensuring that members of the LGBTQ+ community are safe from discrimination in their workplace or have access to the same benefits as their cishet coworkers.

Only half of Fortune 500 companies extend health insurance and other benefits to domestic partners — rather than just married couples — and a third of them don’t offer trans-inclusive healthcare. It’s tough to focus on your job when you don’t get the same level of healthcare some of your coworkers are getting.

What can be done now

Show your employees that they are just as deserving of the benefits their cishet coworkers have access to. If you’re in a position of power, encourage other leaders to go through the benefits package your company offers and make them more inclusive. If you aren’t, find like-minded people in your organization and bring the issue to your leaders.

What still needs to happen

High-profile organizations everywhere need to make it clear that equal benefits are a priority, and prompt legislative bodies to pass regulation that makes this the case. This work shouldn’t fall only on the shoulders of the people affected by this inequality. That way, all organizations that want to offer equal benefits will have guidelines for doing so, and those that don’t will find themselves punished for it.

Ignorance and discrimination

Nearly half of LGBTQ+ people face workplace discrimination or a hostile work environment. We all like to think discrimination isn’t present in our workplace, but the odds aren’t in our favor. Even though most modern employers have made progress towards equality, there are still occurrences — isolated or endemic — of hostility towards LGBTQ+ people far too often. Sometimes it comes from people who don’t know any better, sometimes it’s from people who don’t want to know any better. In the worst cases, it’s deeply ingrained in your workplace’s culture.

What can be done now

All organizations need policies and systems in place to prevent and punish harassment, no matter the size of the company. If you live in a jurisdiction where this kind of harassment is illegal, it’s your duty to do so. If you’re not sure where to start, begin by developing your workplace’s anti-harassment policy. There’s a template for doing that from the Canadian Human Rights Commission here. From there, build out your HR department’s tools for detecting and addressing instances of harassment. Consult with experts who can guide you, like diversity and inclusion consultants.

What still needs to happen

Education needs to be promoted across all organizations, and that doesn’t mean running a single seminar and forgetting about the issue afterward. Work with experts to define a plan to get everyone in your workplace up to speed on issues facing their coworkers, as well as giving them strategies for better allyship. Continually improve systems in place to better protect the LGBTQ+ people in your workplace, and empower them to be themselves at work.

It’s a long road. Unito has started it within our company, but we’ve still got a long way to go.


If you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community and you’re facing some of these issues, here are resources that can help: