Skip to main content

The impact of unintentional discrimination on LGBTQIA+ employees

Research shows that the LGBTQIA+ community is more often subject to being treated differently in the workplace. How can companies ensure that they won’t fall short of full inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion are some of our top priorities, and a crucial part of our company culture. Organisations with diverse workforces lead to more creative teams, with improved bottom lines, and broader perspectives. But, there’s still a long way to go before we’ve reached full inclusion within our industry – as there is in most industries and many workplaces. 

What are the main risks for LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace today, and what are the main health factors that improve inclusion?

Learn more about diversity and inclusion at Visma 

LGBTQIA+ in the workplace today

In 2020, the Swedish government assigned a group of experts from the University of Gothenburg and KTH Royal Institute of Technology to research the organisational and social work environments that the LGBTQIA+ community faces today. Transgendered people, in particular, seemed more exposed to workplace-related issues than others. 

They conducted qualitative research on questions related to:

  • The main risks that can be identified within LGBTQIA+ people’s work environments
  • The main health factors
  • The main differences and similarities between homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people’s workplace situations
  • What characterises an inclusive workplace (as defined by the LGBTQIA+ community)

They found that members of the LGBTQIA+ community still face discrimination, harassment, microaggressions, and other negative behaviours at work. And this happens even within organisations that have activities and initiatives in place to support the LGBTQIA+ community. In other words, even though measures are taken to ensure a more inclusive workplace, verbal and behavioural hostility still takes place – both intentionally and unintentionally. 

Unintentional discrimination in the workplace is more common than you might think

One common issue is that many workplaces still conform to heteronormative perspectives.  Many people in these environments still believe that cisgender heterosexuality is a given, which can alienate people with other sexualities.

Workplaces with heteronormative perspectives also tend to assign different expectations to different genders and age groups. An example could be recruiters assuming that female job applicants of a certain age group will prioritise family over work, and that this affects the decision to hire them. Such judgments often happen subconsciously because they are deeply ingrained in the environments and attitudes of the people around us.

Unintentional discrimination is one of the main risk factors that makes employees fear being their authentic selves at work. And, when people don’t feel free to be themselves, open communication and engagement are harder to maintain within teams and within the organisation as a whole.

The study also found that transgender people experience more discrimination and harassment than both heterosexual people and – maybe to the surprise of many – cisgendered homosexual people. A majority of transgender people who participated reported experiencing microaggressions, or even more hostile harassment, related to their gender identity. Many of them also said they feared the potential consequences of openly being trans at work. 

It’s worth noting that many of the same respondents also reported positive experiences at work – especially support from managers and coworkers. This goes to show how much of a difference each one of us can make in creating inclusive and safe workplace environments.

How can companies improve inclusion in the workplace?

Organisational support is the number one health factor in the work environment for the LGBTQIA+ community. When an organisation openly supports LGBTQIA+ people in their workplace, the whole environment changes. Everyone feels safe, which means employees are more satisfied in their work life and teams can collaborate more openly. 

A supportive organisational environment includes:

  • Organisational policies that express shared principles and behavioural guidelines
  • Activities that raise awareness of internal discrimination
  • A generally supportive and accepting attitude towards everyone

Most importantly, the study found that it’s crucial for managers and colleagues to speak up if they see discrimination in the workplace. It’s not enough to disagree in silence – we all must be vocal if we witness discrimination of any kind because it sets an example for everyone in the workplace.

Marie Norberg, D&I Ninja at Visma

At Visma, we have Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Ninjas that share knowledge and create an understanding of what diversity really means. Being inclusive is one of our core values, and we aim to bridge gaps between people, companies, and countries by raising awareness and sharing our stories. This is something that our D&I Ninjas largely contribute to.

Marie Norberg, Content Manager at Visma Draftit, is one of our D&I Ninjas. She’s passionate about LGBTQIA+ rights and is a member of our internal group Proud of Visma. The purpose of Proud of Visma is to call attention to all things LGBTQIA+.

Marie believes that one of the most common unintentional forms of discrimination is preconceptions – meaning, we tend to have preconceived notions based on the few things we know or see of someone, and we act based on those ideas.

“Look inwards and evaluate your own shortcomings. No one is fully free from prejudice and preconceived notions. If you reflect and become aware of your own biases, you have the opportunity to change them. As a manager, this will set an example for other employees.”

– Marie Norberg

We’ve introduced a D&I index in our internal employee feedback tool, and Visma is currently in the top 5% of the tech industry. When asked what can truly make the most impact on D&I initiatives and creating workplaces where everyone can thrive, Marie had a few thoughts: “Companies should start on a managerial level. Investing in the leaders of the company to increase their awareness of their own biases will set a better example for your employees. They need to be aware of the influence they have”.

Most popular