Tim Cook's Courage Puts Spotlight On the Cost of the Closet at Work

by HRC Staff

WASHINGTON– Despite remarkable progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality, research by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation has found that coming out in the workplace is still extremely difficult for LGBT workers.

A recent HRC report found that 53 percent of LGBT workers nationwide hide who they are at work. And that has had dire implications for workplace creativity, progress and innovation: employee engagement, the report found, suffers by up to 30 percent when a workplace is not welcoming to LGBT workers.

The report, The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion, found that a majority of LGBT workers who stay in the closet on the job do so because they fear making people feel uncomfortable, or fear being stereotyped. Others said they did not want to undermine connections or relationships with co-workers, and felt that being open could compromise their ability to advance in their workplace.

"Tim Cook's statements are both courageous and markers of true leadership," said HRC Workplace Equality Program Deena Fidas. "At the same time, we know from the Cost of the Closet study that every day LGBT workers are asked seemingly innocent questions about their lives outside of work, their families and personal histories - the 'what did you do over the weekend?' conversations," said Deena Fidas, who oversees the CEI as head of the HRC Foundation's Workplace Equality Program. "For these workers, coming out is a near daily decision that is unavoidable in the workplace. We will continue to engage businesses on small, but effective changes to make their workplaces more comfortable for all."

"Despite all of the advancements, we clearly have more work to do,” said Jeff Krehely, chief foundation officer and HRC vice president.  “While today's reality is starkly different from where it once was, most LGBT employees feel they have to leave their full-selves behind when they get to work. Even where companies have inclusive policies, you still find employees getting married without telling their coworkers or transgender employees not transitioning because they are worried they'll be fired.”

The Cost of the Closet surveyed over 800 LGBT workers across the country and included an added survey of non-LGBT workers.  The report at a glance:

  • Invisible workforce: Fifty-three percent of LGBT employees hide who they are at work;
  • Double standards towards LGBT workers: Over 80 percent of non-LGBT workers report that conversations about social lives, relationships and dating come up weekly and often daily and 81 percent feel that LGBT people “should not have to hide who they are at work,” however less than half would feel comfortable hearing an LGBT coworker talk about dating;
  • “That’s so gay:” One in four LGBT employees report hearing negative comments such as “that’s so gay” while at work;
  • Turnover costs of the closet: One-fifth of LGBT workers report looking for a job specifically because the environment wasn’t accepting of LGBT identities, and close to one in ten successfully left a job for the same reasons they were not comfortable;
  • Retention benefits of inclusion: Twenty-six percent have stayed in a job because the environment was accepting.

Now in its thirteenth year, HRC's CEI has found that 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation, and 65 percent on the basis of gender identity. Additionally, 66 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partnership benefits and 32 percent offer transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits.
There is also no federal law that protects workers from workplace discrimination. In 29 states, you can be fired based on your sexual orientation and 32 states lack explicit protections on the basis of gender identity.

More information in the CEI, as well as full data on LGBT-inclusive policies and practices at Fortune 500 companies and top law firms can be found here. HRC’s report on why the workplace environment for LGBT people matters to employers can be found here.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is the educational arm of America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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