Should queer people be part of workplace diversity policies?

Since starting full-time work, I have been thinking a lot about the intersection of queerness/asexuality and the workplace. In my last post I talked more specifically about coming out as ace at work and what that might entail. More recently, I’ve been thinking about a slightly broader question, of whether queer (and I’m using queer as an umbrella for all gender and sexual minorities, including ace folks) people belong in workplace diversity and inclusion policies. Specifically, in more than a purely anti-discrimination sense.

From what I’ve seen and heard so far, the public service where I work is very good at recognising diversity and promoting inclusion, and mostly that encompasses queer people too. There are express statements against marginalising or discriminating against someone on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity or cultural background, religion, sexuality, disability, and probably other things I haven’t listed as well. This is the very basic stuff, the (usually legislated) stuff that say that you can’t get fired because you happen to have a disability, or are seen at a pride march, or wear specific religious or cultural attire, etc.

Beyond anti-discrimination legislation and policy, though, is a further level to inclusion, usually in the form of diversity and inclusion policies and strategies, and this is what I’ve been thinking about more specifically. For example, some groups have policies that actively encourage and support the full participation of minority groups in the workforce, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disability and culturally and linguistically diverse people. That active encouragement and support is something I absolutely agree with, because those groups are historically and currently under-represented in the workforce, especially in higher positions, and often have valuable perspectives and worldviews to share. Currently there is also a big push towards gender equity, especially in leadership roles, because even though women are not a minority per se, there is still a systematic disadvantage faced by women in the workforce, especially those who have kids or have other intersecting identities. This is all really good stuff.

However, one thing I have not seen much of is policies encouraging and supporting queer people as a minority group. Queer people are included when it comes to anti-discrimination policies, but don’t seem to feature in inclusion and diversity strategies much beyond that.

One of the things I read recently is my workplace’s Inclusion and Diversity Strategy for 2015-2020, because it’s something I’m interested in generally, and because I was curious to see whether sexual orientation was addressed at all. As far as diversity strategies go, it’s actually really good. There’s a real emphasis on the benefits of diversity in the workplace, not just from a representational point of view, but also in terms of the breadth of different experiences and new perspectives a diverse workforce creates. Supporting the overall strategy are individual plans, strategies and frameworks targeting specific groups: there are two frameworks relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inclusion, a gender equity strategy, a multicultural policy and action plan, and disability service plans. (These are all excellent initiatives.)

But the thing that is largely missing is any mention of sexual orientation as a marker for diversity, or the inclusion and valuing of queer people in the workplace. There are three mentions of queer people in the 22-page strategy document- sexual orientation is included in a diagram of visible and invisible aspects of diversity, in a statistic saying that 73% of respondents to a workplace survey thought that sexual orientation was not a barrier to success in the organisation, and in a list of suggested actions at the end of the document, which mentions becoming a member of a external LGBTI employer equity program. Apart from those small references, none of the areas of the document specifically cover the inclusion of queer people, and as far as I can tell, there are no other or strategies or action plans that talk about sexual orientation and diversity.

(In a small aside: my department ran several events and stalls for International Women’s Day earlier in the month. I had a chat to one of the people who had organised the events, and asked whether there was going to be anything for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. There were no plans she knew of. A second small aside: one of the things I somewhat nervously did at the end of my induction week was ask my graduate program’s coordinator whether there was any form of public service queer or ally network I could join, like there had been at my university. There wasn’t.)

Three small references don’t do much in the way of convincing me that queer people are meant to be a part of the diversity and inclusion strategy. But should they be? Does sexual orientation rate alongside things like disability, cultural background, and gender equity in the workplace?

I don’t have any definitive answer for that question, but my gut feeling tells me that yes, they probably should be. While you probably can’t say, for example, that the challenges faced by someone with a disability, or the systemic and historical disadvantage faced by ATSI people are in line with the challenges queer people in the workplace face, I think there are still disadvantages that queer people experience that warrant their inclusion in diversity policies. That statistic above – that 73% of people in my organisation thought sexual orientation wasn’t a barrier to success – still suggests that 27% of people did (to some extent, at least) think it was. (There’s no indication of whether those 73% identified as queer or not.) I’ve read a lot recently about how queer people who are not out at work, or have to be secretive about their identity, tend not to be as comfortable, successful, or productive in the workplace. I’m pretty sure that queer people are under-represented (visibly, at least) when it comes to leadership, executive positions and role models – but I haven’t dug up any statistics on it, so I may be wrong. I would be surprised though. And discrimination and harassment still occurs on a frequent basis, from getting fired, passed over for promotion or bad performance reviews, to everyday harassment in the office. Without falling into the trap of playing Oppression Olympics, those seem to me to be pretty good indicators that queer people do face challenges in the workplace that explicit inclusion in diversity policies could help to combat.

Yet there’s still a niggling feeling of doubt in my head, one that says that queer people (especially queer people like myself, who are white and young and able-bodied) shouldn’t need any extra support in the workplace. That queer people don’t face enough challenges in the workplace to warrant any targeted measures for increasing their inclusion, that I’m stepping on ‘actually disadvantaged’ people’s toes in suggesting queer people be included. I’m not exactly sure where that comes from. So I thought I’d throw this post out there and see what everyone else thought – do queer people have a place in workplace diversity, beyond anti-discrimination measures?

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7 thoughts on “Should queer people be part of workplace diversity policies?

  1. My university department has recently established a diversity committee, born out recent gender equality initiatives, i.e., are women in academia represented and treated fairly? When collecting statistics or looking for representatives, it’s easy to identify people who are female or non-white, but you could be forgiven for thinking that everyone in the department, staff and students, is cishet. So, is this invisible minority discriminated against? Probably, but what should we do to identify problems?

    1. It is hard to say what we can practically do. My university had a very well-regarded Ally program, that allowed staff to attend a comprehensive training day to learn how to support fellow staff and students who were queer. People who registered for the program then usually displayed their Ally status in their offices, etc, to help create a culture of openness and acceptance.

      One of the the things I have been thinking about is a sort of networking and mentoring program for queer people starting in the workforce, especially in organisations like mine where there are pretty big graduate intakes. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a more socially-based queer network for people to join, and if you wanted to, you could apply to be paired with an experienced queer employee as a mentor? I know I would have appreciated something like that.

      1. Thank you for this. Much to think about, and I need to learn more about what the University itself does. However, I do worry about “Ally” status because many seem to regard it as an invasive identity.

  2. That’s a hard question to answer. How to order my thoughts… At the moment, when I think about applying for jobs, I would never consider being “out” when I go for job interviews/if I get the job. Because even if it were a company or business with queer-friendly plastered across their web page… There’s no guarantee that that’s the reality of the situation.
    So it’s hard to consider whether queer people should be included in a diversity/inclusion campaign…. When I (and I’m sure others) don’t allow my queerness to factor into the selection process. I, or others, might get or not get the job based on other visible factors (culture, gender, disability), but the struggles with being queer begin in interpersonal interactions after getting the job.

  3. I think I have very similar instincts around this that you do. I worry that including queerness as a diversity measure would effectively become affirmative action for white middle-class people, who are still more likely than other groups to actively identify as LGBQ and/or as ace. I definitely don’t feel comfortable taking advantage of these policies when they do explicitly include queer folx, but on the other hand I can see how the policies would be very important for other queer people, so I dunno?

    Part of me thinks that the problem with discrimination in the workplace for queer people is less at the hiring stage than over the long term, since for many people it is possible to simply hide the queerness in the beginning (sexuality is often invisible, unlike race or many physical disabilities), which is why anti-discrimination polices are more important than being included in diversity promotion. But I may simply be too privileged in too many other ways to see the issues that other queer folx face for being queer.

    1. Yeah, I think you make a really good point there about the problem being more the long-term rather than at the hiring stage. It would be interesting to know whether there were any studies done on hiring practises for queer women, for example, who present as butch or femme. But yes, it is possible to not be visibly queer, especially early on in a job. It’s later than things can get more difficult, perhaps for career progression as well.

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