By Melissa J. Anderson

A recent Angus Reid Public Opinion survey of almost 1000 employed lesbian, gay, and bisexual Canadians revealed that “one third of gays (34%) and two-in-five lesbians (40%) have experienced some form of discrimination throughout the course of their professional lives.” But the survey showed that those polled felt the situation was improving, and that workplaces were becoming more tolerant.

Seventy-two percent of respondents said that attitudes toward LGBT people have improved in the past five years. In fact, the survey continued, “only two per cent of respondents who are ‘out’ at work say that their colleagues had a negative attitude towards that aspect of their lives.”

Angus Reid Public Opinion Vice President Jaideep Mukerji told the Toronto Sun, “The survey shows that the average Canadian workplace has become kinder for LGBT people, with most employers and co-workers being regarded as tolerant towards the LGBT community.”

Nevertheless, the study revealed, a sizeable portion of survey respondents still reported a level of fear around coming out and being out in the workplace.

Discrimination and Bullying

The study showed that 34% of gays and 40% of lesbians said they had faced discrimination professionally. The study said, “Social exclusion (43%) and ridicule (42%) are the most likely forms of discrimination.”

Individuals experiencing this kind of discrimination mainly do not respond to these issues – 69% of people who had experienced social exclusion said they did nothing in response, and 43% of those who had faced ridicule said the same.

This could be a reason that so many individuals said they were not out to their peers. Only 59% said they were out to peer employees and half (50%) were out to their immediate supervisor.  About the same percentage (48%) were out to management. Even fewer were out to human resources (44%) and their subordinates (43%)

Of those who were not out to their department, 44% of gays, 54% of lesbians, and 11% of bisexuals felt their coworkers assumed they were LGBT.

Additionally, of those who were not out to their department or group at work, the most common reason given (61%) was “my private life is private.” Similarly 50% said they simply did not feel the need to come out.

Twenty-eight percent said they were concerned about negative consequences of coming out.

Social Exclusion

They asked respondents who were not out to describe what the consequences of coming out might be. The most common response (47%) was “probably nothing.” But the next most common response (29%) was “social exclusion.” In fact, gay men were significantly more concerned about social exclusion than lesbians (31% and 23% respectively.

Social exclusion can damage one’s career because of the importance of informal networks in career advancement. Lowell L. Bryan, Eric Matson, and Leigh M. Weiss wrote in the McKinsey Quarterly:

“Most large corporations have dozens if not hundreds of informal networks, which go by the name of peer groups, communities of practice, or functional councils—or have no title at all. These networks organize and reorganize themselves and extend their reach via cell phones, Blackberries, community Web sites, and other accessories of the digital age. As networks widen and deepen, they can mobilize talent and knowledge across the enterprise.”

These networks are the channels through which individuals build trust and rapport with colleagues and get noticed for sponsorship and advancement by senior management. Being excluded from them can harm ones career prospects without being officially discriminated against within the corporate structure.

The exclusion of employees from these informal networks also shows a level of cultural discomfort with LGBT individuals that is deep and difficult to quantify or track. Bryan, Matson, and Weiss point out, “Valuable as they are, these ad hoc communities clearly have shortcomings: they can increase complexity and confusion, and since they typically fly under management’s radar, they elude control.”

It’s difficult for corporate policy on LGBT inclusiveness to seep into informal networks because they are informal and outside corporate policy. This is why LGBT inclusiveness is so important for companies to work to weave into the fabric of their corporate cultures.