LGBT Employees' Experiences in US Federal Agencies

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Employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender commonly face workplace discrimination. Sometimes they experience barriers to employment. Other times, they are treated poorly on the job by peers or supervisors, or paid less than their counterparts. 

In an effort to combat this mistreatment, policy experts and advocates frequently call for companies to develop and enforce LGBT-inclusive policies. Explicitly barring LGBT verbal abuse should, for example, make such slights a rare occurrence. 

Recently, Erin Cech and William Rothwell, both of the University of Michigan, examined the experiences of LGBT employees working in federal agencies. Importantly, each agency had anti-LGBT policies in place. 

The researchers gathered data from over 300,000 employees. The results were telling. 

Across 16 measures of workplace experiences, ranging from treatment, to workplace fairness, to satisfaction with work, LGBT employees reported poorer work experiences than did their heterosexual counterparts. The differences remained even after taking into account other factors, such as age or time in the workplace. 

The effects were not uniform, though. LGBT women and racial minorities experienced work more poorly than did their LGBT colleagues who identified as White or as a man. 

Finally, the authors found that LGBT status influenced people’s desire to voluntarily leave the organization. 

The findings obviously have implications for employees and their well-being. The authors noted that the research “underscores the value of considering how inequalities in day-to-day workplace experiences, in addition to processes of formal discrimination, may disadvantage LGBT workers.”

Beyond employee well-being, the findings have workplace effectiveness implications, especially when considering the substantial costs of replacing people who leave the workplace.