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New Out & Equal Survey Shows Challenges for LGBT Employees

By Melissa J. Anderson

Out & Equal’s latest Workplace Survey shows that support for LGBT inclusiveness is dropping across the United States.

Last year, 47 percent of all respondents said they supported policies that ban discrimination against LGBT people. This year, that number was 43 percent.

While LGBT support for polices that ban LGBT discrimination increased from 76 percent to 84 percent over the past year, that jump was not enough to counteract the decrease in support from heterosexual people – both allies and non-allies. Support for these policies decreased for allies (from 81 percent last year to 73 percent in 2012) and non-allies (from 29 percent last year to 22 percent in 2012).

Similarly, LGBT individuals are more empowered this year than last when it comes to speaking up about discrimination (an increase from 61 percent to 75 percent). On the other hand, heterosexual support has dropped here as well, from 64 percent to 62 percent for allies, and 16 percent to 10 percent for non-allies.

Nevertheless, the organization says the support LGBT employees do receive from allies is important. “Ending all forms of discrimination in the workplace benefits all employees,” says Selisse Berry, Founding Executive Director of the organization. She continues, “It’s breathtaking to see how many more allies gave stronger voice to our issues and stand buy us to defeat unequal treatment.”

Noting the uptick in the percentage of LGBT indivdials feeling empowered to call out discriminatory behavior, Berry added, “We know our mission is strengthened when we see more LGBT employees able to summon the courage to speak up when they see or experience discrimination.”

LGBT Inclusiveness at Work

The drop in support from allies is surprising, considered the growing focus on the importance of the group in the past year or two. In Evolved Employer’s own surveys on LGBT inclusiveness, we have seen respondents call the group useful – even crucial – for the advancement of LGBT inclusiveness in the office.

That’s why the numbers in this latest survey are troubling.

According to the report, the percentage of people who speak up or report it when they hear anti-gay remarks at work has decreased from 31 percent in 2011 to 28 percent in 2012. While LGBT individuals are now more likely to speak up or report anti-LGBT remarks (from 57 percent to 67 percent), that number decreased significantly for allies (from 60 percent to 51 percent) and slightly for non-allies (from 14 percent to 12 percent).

The decrease in ally support also corresponded with a drop in the percentage of allies attending LGBT events (from 11 percent in 2011 to 7 percent in 2012).

There was also an sizeable increase in awareness of issues important to the LGBT community for LGBT individuals (from 58 percent last year to 71 percent this year), a slight drop in the same measure for allies (45 percent to 42 percent) and a slight uptick for non-allies.

Allies?

This brings to the fore the question of what an ally really is.

Out and Equal, and its partners on the study, Harris Interactive and Witeck Communications, did not specify how it was determined whether a heterosexual respondent was an ally or a non-ally. The study polled 2,562 adults, with 371 identifying themselves as LGBT.

But based on these results:

  • Less than three quarters (73 percent) of allies support policies that ban discrimination against LGBT people.
  • Only 62 percent of allies speak up against LGBT discussions when they hear them.
  • Half of allies (51 percent) speak up when they hear anti-gay remarks at work.
  • Two in five allies (42 percent) keep informed about issues of importance to the LGBT community.
  • Eight percent of allies give money to LGBT causes.
  • Seven percent of allies attend LGBT events.

The numbers are not overwhelming, and they are all lower than last year’s percentages. Can someone call themselves an ally if they don’t vocally support LGBT people? Perhaps some allies do not know how they can best support LGBT colleagues. Or perhaps there are workplaces where speaking out against LGBT discrimination could be a career killer, for LGBT or heterosexual employees. The data is confusing – hopefully more research can illuminate why actionable ally support is relatively low and is decreasing.

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