LGBTQ+ Australians out in the workplace ahead of global peers

23 August 2021 Consultancy.com.au 4 min. read

Australian employees who identify as LGBTQ+ feel largely more comfortable in being out in the workplace than many of their international peers, according to the results of a new survey by Boston Consulting Group.

According to the survey from the global strategic consulting firm, members of Australia’s LGBTQ+ community are among the most comfortable with being out and proud in the workplace, with half of the local respondents stating that they believed being ‘out’ was an advantage at work and a further 38 percent believing their gender or sexual identification was irrelevant. The remaining 12 percent however still considered it a professional disadvantage.

To compile its report, BCG altogether canvassed the views of 8,800 people in 19 mostly developed nations across Europe, the Asia Pacific, Africa and Americas, with an average of three quarters of respondents across all countries out among colleagues, and 45 percent with clients.*

The first twelve months at work are critical for LGBTQ+ members coming out

Perhaps the most notable finding was that if employees didn’t feel comfortable in coming out at work within the first year, they were highly unlikely to do so thereafter.

Of those surveyed, 70 percent shared their LGBTQ+ status with their workplace within the first year, while 20 percent remained ‘closeted’ (although it should be noted that people have a right not to disclose certain personal details with their employers and colleagues, regardless of whether they feel comfortable or belong to an inclusive workplace or not). Only one tenth of those who hadn’t come out at work within the first year did so subsequently.

Report co-author Gabrielle Novacek, a partner and managing director with BCG’s Chicago office, highlights the importance of the findings for recruiters. “Our survey found that LGBTQ+ employees who are out at work are more empowered and feel more comfortable about speaking up, being themselves, and building close friendships at the office. We believe that this in turn leads to more productive teaming and reduced employee turnover.”

LGBTQ+ employees who are out feel more empowered in the workplace

Here, Australia led the way among surveyed countries, with 50 percent considering being out advantageous for their careers, ahead of the US with a 43 percent positive response rate. The next closest nations were Germany, Switzerland and Canada, with results just marginally above 30 percent. On the other end of the scale, Mexico and France both recorded rates below 10 percent, with other generally liberal nations such as Sweden and Belgium also faring poorly.

At 12 percent, Australia didn’t however come out on top when it came to those who still felt disadvantaged in their careers by being out in the workplace, shaded by both the US and Canada. As a result, and perhaps partially reflecting the recency of the gay marriage debate, Australia then recorded the lowest figure (38 percent compared to a high of 65 percent in Norway) among all countries for those who thought their LGB TQ+ status was irrelevant.

One half of LGBTQ+ Australians see being out at work as advantageous

Australian LGBTQ+ workers also bucked the trend when it came to being openly out to clients. Across the nations, the rates of being out steadily dropped as networks extended outwards, with, on average, 92 percent being out with friends, 82 percent being out with family, 76 percent being out with colleagues, and finally, just 45 percent being out with clients. In Australia however, up to three quarters of respondents stated that their clients knew of their LGBTQ+ identification.

According to a 2020 study by McKinsey & Company, corporate workplaces fall short on LGBTQ+ inclusion, with in particular LGBTQ+ women facing strong barriers.

* The results do however come with an important caveat. BCG notes that the sample is not representative of the overall population or all industries, but is instead skewed toward employees with generally high levels of education who worked in corporate settings. Most also served at companies with relatively advanced policies and programs. Also, not covered here, there were varying outcomes for different segments of the LGBTQ+ community.