By Melissa J. Anderson

A new survey of employees at Australian companies has revealed some surprising data around being out and age. According to the research, younger employees were the least likely to be out in the workplace. This runs contrary to common belief around today’s young LGBT individuals being more comfortable being open.

The study of 770 individuals is a part of the 2012 Australian Workplace Equality Index, which ranks Australia’s top companies in terms of LGBT equality. This year’s employer of the year, PwC, rose several spots from number eight least year. Professional services firms nabbed top spots on the Index.

Luke Sayers, CEO of PwC Australia said, “We recognise that people are the key to our success as a business, which is why we are committed to building a culture that empowers every individual and celebrates difference.”

But, the study showed, not everyone is on board with the move toward inclusiveness. The survey also generated an “alarming” number of “hate” responses as well, which show that companies have a long way to go creating an inclusive environment.

Survey Data

According to the survey, while 70 percent of respondents are out to their colleagues at work, only 56 percent are out to managers. Only 28 percent said they were out to clients or customers.

In fact over a third of respondents (38 percent) said they don’t feel they can be themselves at work, and 29 percent said they are not confident their work environment is “save and inclusive.” About one in ten (12 percent) said they wouldn’t feel comfortable reporting bullying or harassment.

Negative statistics like these can hurt a company’s chances of attracting the best and the brightest talent whether LGBT or straight. “An organisation’s reputation is key to attracting and retaining talent,” said Dawn Hough, Pride in Diversity Program Director.

She explained that survey respondents from the top ten companies on the Index tend to rate their employers higher on inclusive culture, the ability to be themselves at work, confidence in reporting harassment, and fostering a safe work environment. “This clearly shows that making a workplace more inclusive of LGBT employees has a direct and positive impact on the daily working lives and perceptions of LGBT employees as well as organisational brand and reputation,” she added.

Inclusive Cultures

Nevertheless, Hough continued, the survey generated quite a few negative “hate” responses as well. “These comments come from organisations which actively promote diversity and inclusion,” she explained. “We suspect that data from organisations which continue to exclude LGBT initiatives from their diversity agenda would be even more alarming.”

This shows that even companies doing everything right, some people will just be hostile to LGBT people. That’s why management must send a clear message that these attitudes and behaviors will not be tolerated, and LGBT employees must be reassured that their jobs are safe if they report negative behaviors.

Employees aged 16 to 24 for the least likely to be out to colleagues, the study revealed. Hough said, “Young people joining the workforce for the first time are just finding their feet and probably a little scared of rocking the boat.”

“Starting work for the first time is daunting enough without the added pressure of coming out to everyone in the office. They also don’t know how people will react to working with an LGBT colleague, or what support might be available for them in terms of being themselves at work, free to engage in conversations, talk about what they did on the weekend, who their partner is; something their heterosexual counterparts take for granted.”

That’s why clear and frequent messaging from senior staff and line managers on LGBT inclusiveness is so important. Employees of all ages need to feel that being LGBT at work won’t be a career-killer. While the majority of those people surveyed were out, there was still a relatively high percentage of people who were not. Employers must work harder to make sure LGBT individuals feel they can be their whole selves in the office, rather than hiding who they are.