IMPACT

Can SA's New LGBT+ Forum Finally Make It Safe For Queer Employees To Come Out?

21 percent of LGBT+ employees have been discriminated against in hiring, promotions and pay.

12/10/2017 11:30 SAST | Updated 13/10/2017 06:34 SAST
mattjeacock
Can workplaces finally be safe spaces?

Are you scared to "come out" to your colleagues? Or do you know employees who are scared to reveal their sexual and gender identity at work?

Discussions at the launch of The Forum in Johannesburg on Wednesday revealed that while 4 percent of all employees in the South African workplace are queer, many of them don't feel safe enough to come out in the workplace.

"Yes, you do have queer people in your workplace," The Forum chairperson Dylan van Vuuren said at the launch, "but they may just not feel comfortable coming out, and that's the problem."

Van Vuuren explained to a group of the country's most high-profile private and public-sector executives that the forum, as a result, has set up The Forum employee network to assist organisations in making their workplaces more inclusive.

The Forum has also created an annual workplace equality index, scheduled for release later this year, that recognises the country's most inclusive employers and those that aren't as interested in creating an equal work environment.

The queer workforce continues to face widespread discrimination in the workplace, with 21 percent of LGBT+ employees reporting that they have been discriminated against in hiring, promotions and pay. Furthermore, one out of every 25 complaints made about workplace discrimination comes from LGBT+ employees.

"Every employee, regardless of their 'otherness', should be treated fairly," says Teveshan Kuni, spokesperson for The Forum. "It is now essential that business leaders set standards promoting inclusivity and diversity-based policies on sexual orientation and gender expression."

Recent reports show there is a 15 percent higher likelihood of above industry average financial performance by companies with gender diversity policies

Kuni says studies have shown that LGBT+ staff in non-supportive environments tend to suffer from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. In addition, recent reports show there is a 15 percent higher likelihood of above industry average financial performance by companies with gender diversity policies and a 17 percent higher chance that employees who were not "out" would leave their current employer because of a lack of diversity in the workplace.

"Last year in Davos, we saw many Fortune 500 companies go public on LGBT+ support, with 93% prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 75% having non-discrimination policies relating to gender identity -- so there is a long way to go in South Africa," says Kuni.

"With people spending most of their working day outside of the home, we want to ensure all workplace environments are a safe space for people to be their authentic selves, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity," concludes Kuni, "and we urge corporate South Africa to come out and contact us to become more inclusive."