Nearly half of LGBTQ employees in the U.S. are closeted at work, down slightly from a decade ago, according to a report released this week by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
The organization surveyed 804 LGBTQ respondents and 811 non-LGBTQ respondents this year and found that 46 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer workers are still closeted in the workplace, down from 50 percent in 2008. The survey also found that 50 percent of non-LGBTQ workers reported there were no openly LGBTQ people at their company.
“While LGBTQ-inclusive corporate policies are becoming the norm, LGBTQ workers too often face a climate of bias in their workplace,” Deena Fidas, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program and a co-author of the report, said in a statement.
The survey results found that the top four reasons for LGBTQ employees' choosing not to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity were: the possibility of being stereotyped (38 percent); the possibility of making people feel uncomfortable (36 percent); the possibility of losing connections or relationships with coworkers (31 percent); and the fear colleagues may think they are attracted to them just because they are LGBTQ (27 percent).
Devin Hemachandra, 23, a software engineer in Cincinnati, came out at his current company less than a year ago, but said he had been closeted at a number of previous jobs.
“Even though I was fortunate to have worked in places that explicitly stated that they do not discriminate based on sexual orientation, I was still afraid to come out to my co-workers, because of how I might be treated,” he told NBC News. “I don't believe any of them would have harassed and shown any abuse toward me, but I didn't want the good existing relations I had with them to deteriorate.”
Hemachandra also noted that Ohio is one of 27 states that does not have a statute protecting LGBTQ employees from private workplace discrimination.
Chantal Ridlon, a high school teacher in Connecticut, a state that does have LGBTQ employment protections, said she hesitated to come out to her colleagues as lesbian for fear of how they would react. She finally came out in the past year, and said the experience has been a mixed bag.
“I don’t feel like anyone is discriminating,” she said, “just judging.” She used to be married to a man before she came out, so she got “switch-hitter” types of comments, she added.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation also found about 20 percent of queer workers report that co-workers have told them to dress more feminine or more masculine.
The report also found that a workplace environment that is not LGBTQ-inclusive can have a negative impact on engagement, retention and turnover.
“LGBTQ employees are still avoiding making personal and professional connections at work because they fear coming out — and that hurts not only that employee, but the company as a whole,” Fidas said. “Even the best-of-the-best private sector employers with top-rated policies and practices must do more to nurture a climate of inclusion for all.”
The report concludes with recommendations for senior leaders, mid-level managers, and individuals, including “ask yourself what informed your earliest impressions and beliefs about LGBTQ identity and how you express that at work” and “equip teams with a vocabulary around spotting unconscious bias and talking to each other and you as their manager around experiences of unconscious bias.”