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?