Representation of LGBTIQ+ people is an important step to ensure equality and reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace.
We use the term LGBTIQ+ to refer collectively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer/questioning. However, we recognise the complexity of LGBTIQ+ communities and that a person may have more than one LGBTIQ attribute (for example, transgender and gay) and that for some people, sexual orientation and gender identity may not be fixed.
The 2018 National Survey found that people who identify as gay or lesbian (47%), bisexual (57%) or with another sexual orientation (55%) were significantly more likely than people who identify as straight or heterosexual (31%) to be sexually harassed in the workplace in the previous five years. People with an intersex variation were also more likely than those without such a variation to have been sexually harassed in their workplace in the last five years, (77% compared to 32%).
To date, most research on workplace sexual harassment has focused on the sexual harassment of women. Recent research has found that gender identity and sexual identity also affect sexual harassment, and that specific prejudices are involved in the sexual harassment of gay and lesbian people, including bystander responses.
A 2011 Commission issues paper highlighted that violence, harassment and bullying experienced by LGBTIQ+ people is often hidden and under-reported, which makes it difficult to assess the extent of the problem. The report noted that people, especially young people, are frequently harassed on the basis of their sexual orientation or sex and/or gender identity.
Discrimination and harassment against LGBTIQ+ people at work continues to be a significant issue. The Australian Workplace Equality Index measures LGBTI inclusion in the workplace. Its 2018 survey of workers in organisations active in LGBTI inclusion’ found:
- 25% (regardless of identity) had witnessed negative jokes/commentary targeting LGBTIQ+ people (36.5% said they did nothing in response)
- 13% felt their managers or team leaders would not address harassment of LGBTIQ+ people
- 14% did not feel that LGBTIQ+ employees could comfortably be themselves at work without fear of constant innuendo, jokes or commentary.
Heterosexism refers to beliefs and behaviours that privilege heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships. Studies show an underlying link between heterosexist harassment and sexual harassment, as both serve to ‘punish deviation from traditional patriarchal gender norms’, which mandate heterosexuality.
The Respect@Work Report highlight a number of issues related to sexual harassment of LGBTIQ+ people, including:
- heterosexism and homophobia frequently intersect with sexual harassment of LGBTIQ+ people in the workplace;
- people experienced additional forms of sexual harassment related to the LGBTIQ+ status, such as the presumption that LGBTIQ+ people want to engage in banter around sexual exploits;
- the intersection between gender and sexual orientation was particularly complicated for women. A recent study on the experiences at work of same-sex attracted women found that ‘the dual impact of gender and sexuality makes it even more challenging for same-sex attracted women to thrive and develop in their working environment’.
- experiences of discrimination affected LGBTIQ+ people’s willingness to speak up about workplace sexual harassment.
- a culture of invisibility of LGBTIQ+ people or ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in some workplaces, in which LGBTQI people did not feel comfortable disclosing for fear of the consequences, and as a result sexual harassment between people of the same sex was not acknowledged;
- recent research with same-sex attracted women found they valued LGBTIQ+ networks within their workplace because of the potential for these networks to provide support to LGBTIQ+ co-workers and to promote a more LGBTIQ+ -inclusive workplace. The level of organisational support for LGBTIQ+ people is an important factor influencing how comfortable and included LGBTIQ+ people feel at work;
- a lack of mainstream understanding of sexual orientation and gender diversity could contribute to LGBTIQ+ people’s experiences of sexual harassment;
- a lack of understanding could also contribute to workplace sexual harassment of transgender and gender-diverse people, for example, due to intrusive questions about potential surgery, genitalia and sexual activities:
- much of the discussion around workplace sexual harassment is heteronormative (where heterosexual relationships between people who identify with their birth gender are seen as the norm) and assumes a male harasser and female victim, excluding experiences of LGBTIQ+ workers, and
- heteronormative views could sometimes lead to employers refusing to recognise or take appropriate action when a worker was sexually harassed by someone of the same sex.
A key to addressing many of these issues is achieving greater levels of LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the workforce. ACON’s Pride Inclusion Programs offer a range of services to assist employers, sporting organisations and service providers with all aspects of LGBTQ inclusion. There are free and paid membership resources available to assist all employers be more inclusive of LGBTQ people.
Dr Bree Gorman has worked with organisations across a wide variety of sectors delivering diversity and inclusion strategies, policy reviews, research projects, inclusion audits and diversity and inclusion training. Bree has a range of products and services to assist organisations in this area, in addition to some very practical advice. A good starting point for organisations is to adopt non-binary inclusion at work, an approach that goes beyond use of pronouns. The following is adapted, with permission, from Bree’s article you can find here.
Non-Binary inclusion in the workplace
Fostering non-binary inclusion at work, like other forms of inclusion, will benefit your staff, attract high-quality future employees and appeal to clients who choose to support inclusive businesses. Gender isn’t binary. Many people consider themselves neither man nor women. However, our language is still often centred around the concept of men and women. This results in unfair and exclusionary policies, programs, conversations and practices. To create inclusion for non-binary employees and clients we need to constantly challenge our assumptions around gender and reflect closely on the ways we use language.
Here are some ways to improve non-binary inclusion in your organisation.
- Consider encouraging staff to note their pronouns in their email signature (remembering not to make this compulsory) or on the internal communications platforms used at work. For more information about the use of pronouns see here.
- Ensure your organisation has gender neutral toilets available.
- Particularly if you are in a leadership position, avoid phrases that exclude non-binary people such as ‘hey guys’, ‘ladies and gentlemen’ and ‘maternity leave’. Instead use phrases such as ‘hey team’ or ‘hey everyone’ or ‘parental leave’.
Employee benefits and organisational policies are usually structured around the idea that gender is binary and that women shoulder the majority of the childcare and domestic duties. Look out for:
- Policies that state she/her or he/him when referring to employees. This language can easily be altered to they/them and refer to individuals as people.
- Carer policies that outline maternity and paternity leave. Shift this language to parental or caregiver leave. Additionally, ideas of secondary and primary carer need to become ideas of the past. Many countries and some Australian corporations now recognise that caring responsibilities should be shared and that as workplaces we can accommodate this.
- Ensure forms and internal systems have an option for non-binary people! Many systems and forms still only have space for two gender options. Some organisations have a third option ‘other’. Avoid using the term ‘other’, instead use non-binary/gender diverse and/or give people a free text box to self-describe and an option that says ‘prefer not to say’.
- Exclude titles on forms, such as Mr, Mrs or Miss.
- Ensure any harassment or discrimination policies specifically call out gender identity as a protected attribute.
- Develop a gender affirmation/transition policy - by having a gender affirmation and transition policy and procedure – and that your staff are familiar with what to do when another team member shares that they’re going to affirm their gender – you’ll support your gender diverse and trans employees. There are many examples of processes and extra resources, such as RMIT University’s Gender Affirmation guide.
- Review your organisation’s dress code - If your workplace has a specific dress code or uniform it should not be gendered. Many schools are now leading the way by providing a list of uniform options without assigning gender to them. However, other schools and workplaces still have outdated ideas around professional dress and uniform standards including restrictions that inhibit a person’s ability to be themselves.