Equality Rising Celebrating Strides in Workplace Equality While Addressing the Work That Lies Ahead

For workers across the country, including LGBTQ+ workers, the workplace presents an opportunity to excel and thrive, both professionally and personally. However, for many LGBTQ+ workers, doing so as their most authentic selves can be challenging. To better understand the experiences of LGBTQ+ workers, as well as the challenges they face, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation released the “Equality Rising: LGBTQ+ Workers and the Road Ahead” report. “Equality Rising” helps to contextualize the current workplace climate and experiences of LGBTQ+ workers.

At a time when LGBTQ+ people are living under a state of emergency — with a record-breaking number of over 570 anti-LGBTQ+ bills being introduced in state legislatures in 2023 alone, and 29 states lacking comprehensive protections for LGBTQ+ people — “Equality Rising” provides important and insightful findings to help us better understand what is needed to further LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace.

To produce the report, a survey was conducted by the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Equality Program and Public Education & Research team in 2023, surveying about 3,044 adult part- and full-time workers, 2,002 of which were LGBTQ+ workers. The report reflects many of the results of this survey collected via an online questionnaire administered by Community Marketing and Insight and PSB Insights and sponsored by J.P. Morgan Chase.

RaShawn “Shawnie” Hawkins (she/her), senior director for the Workplace Equality Program, said that the findings from the report suggest that despite great strides in workplace equality, LGBTQ+ workers continue to face hurdles due to their identity.

While we have seen inclusive corporate policies increase, many LGBTQ+ workers still face biases in their workplace that prevent them from advancing in their careers. The possibility of a negative impact on their career keeps proud LGBTQ+ workers closeted in fear of discrimination, privacy concerns and in certain instances, losing their jobs. When someone has to hide who they are and don’t feel comfortable or even safe to be themselves, it’s incredibly hard to show up and do their best work."

Shawnie Hawkins, senior director for the Workplace Equality Program

Hawkins said that the report substantiated the fact that there is a disconnect between employers and their intentions. She said that in order for employers to understand their employees, and in order to create policies and best practices that support their well-being, they have to know exactly who their employees are and how the current workplace culture impacts them.

“These kinds of reports serve as a mirror to employers who have DEI strategies for workplace inclusion but need to see how those policies are actually realized by their employees,” said Hawkins.

Shoshana Goldberg, director of the Human Right Campaign Foundation’s Public Education and Research program, whose team was instrumental in facilitating the logistics for the report, agrees.

“Employers have made great strides to show up for their LGBTQ+ employees, and foster affirming and welcoming workplaces, and this is paying off,” said Goldberg. “However, we also see that employers have room to grow.”

The findings in “Equality Rising” suggest that almost nine in 10, or 84% of LGBTQ+ workers, are out to at least one person in their current job — substantially higher than in 2018, when only 54% of LGBTQ+ workers were out to at least one person at work. However, LGBTQ+ workers, on average, are half as likely to be out to their human resources department than to coworkers on their team — suggesting a potential lack of trust or lack of opportunity to report. Additionally, the report suggests that 51% of LGBTQ+ workers have withheld their identity at their job due to privacy concerns, while 40% have done so due to fear of being stigmatized or facing violence at work.

LGBTQ+ Worker Outness

84% of LGBTQ+ workers are out to at least one person in their current job in 2023
54% of LGBTQ+ workers were out to at least one person at work in 2018

The report also suggests that despite increased corporate and employer support of LGBTQ+ workers, and many non-LGBTQ+ workers feeling like they are doing enough, many LGBTQ+ workers feel that they still need more. According to the report, 57% of LGBTQ+ workers and 61% of transgender and non-binary workers feel this way. Furthermore, over 28% percent of LGBTQ+ workers, including over 37% of transgender and non-binary workers, have actually left a job for this reason.

“We’re also seeing outness decrease as power distance grows with 69% of LGBTQ+ workers out to their direct supervisor, and only 48% out to HR, suggesting a potential trust gap. And while outness at current jobs is high, many LGBTQ+ people have experienced barriers to disclosure in their lifetime,” said Goldberg.

Goldberg said the report suggests that three in 10 LGBTQ+ workers have been closeted on the job because they were afraid of losing status in the workplace, while four in 10 have been closeted due to fear of violence and stigma.

It is the intentional implementation of inclusive and affirming policies and practices, Hawkins said, that truly drives LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace.

“Also, I think the rise in visibility for our community and the progress we’ve made with the Bostock ruling in 2020 [that determined discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by federal law] shows that our current and future LGBTQ+ workforce is more out and proud than ever. That’s an amazing thing!” said Hawkins. “It also shows that tools like the Corporate Equality Index have a real impact on LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion that make our communities feel safer, helping them find allies in their workplace that affirms their right to be themselves. That’s a powerful story the 'Equality Rising' report shows. We have more allies in our work spaces that value diversity, equity and inclusion just as much as we do.”

Still, Hawkins said, there is still work to be done, including strategic ways of collecting sexual orientation and gender identity information safely and intentionally. That is something Hawkins said that the Workplace team is currently working on developing resources for employers which helps them collect this data in a “thoughtful and productive way.”

“Now is not the time to take your foot of the gas as an employer or as an individual advocate working towards a more inclusive workplace,” said Hawkins.

Read the full “Equality Rising” report here.