Understanding why LGBTQIA+ employees don't come out at work

By Future Talent Learning

In today's diverse and inclusive world, it is disheartening to realise that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, or asexual, (LGBTQIA+) employees still face challenges in expressing their whole selves in the workplace.


According to Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain - Work Report


  • More than a third of LGBT staff (35 per cent) have hidden that they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination
  • One in ten black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees (10 per cent) have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year
  • Nearly two in five bi people (38 per cent) aren’t out to anyone at work

Despite the progress made in society, a significant number of individuals choose not to come out at work. The phrase 'coming out' describes the process of individuals opting to disclose their LGBTQIA+ identity to others. However, not everyone prefers to use this terminology. Some individuals call this process 'letting people in' or merely sharing their authentic selves.


Creating an inclusive work environment is crucial for the wellbeing and productivity of employees. Leaders and managers have a responsibility to ensure that all team members, including those who identify as LGBTQIA+, feel supported and valued. 


The business case for inclusion 

By valuing and including individuals with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and ideas, organisations can tap into a rich pool of talent, unleash innovative thinking and deliver better productivity. A 2019 study by BetterUp found that workplace belonging can lead to an estimated:

  • 56% increase in job performance
  • 50% reduction in turnover risk
  • 75% decrease in employee sick days


Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, suggests employers can foster a culture of innovation and creativity by creating an inclusive environment that welcomes diverse voices and encourages constructive dissent. Inclusion benefits individuals by allowing them to express their authentic selves,  but also benefits organisations by enabling them to adapt, thrive, and stay ahead in a rapidly changing world. 


In an ideal world, employees should never have to hide their true identities to fit into their workplaces. However, the reality is that many LGBTQIA+ employees still face significant challenges when it comes to coming out at work. Find out why LGBTQIA+ employees don't come out, the importance of employee support for this community, and the role managers can play in creating an inclusive environment for all.


Why LGBTQIA+ employees don't come out at work

Leaders and managers play a crucial role in shaping the work environment and setting the tone for inclusivity. They need to educate themselves on LGBTQIA+ issues, develop empathy, and lead by example. 


By understanding the reasons behind their silence and taking proactive steps to support LGBTQIA+ employees, organisations can create an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, feels safe, valued, and respected in the workplace.


  1. The Fear of Discrimination and Bias: One of the primary reasons why LGBTQIA+ employees hesitate to come out at work is the fear of facing discrimination or bias from their colleagues or superiors. This fear arises due to past experiences or stories heard from others, which can lead to a hostile work environment. This fear often forces employees to conceal their identity to protect themselves from potential harm.

  2. Lack of Support: Without a supportive network, LGBTQIA+ employees may feel isolated and unsure if they can be their authentic selves at work. The absence of openly LGBTQIA+ role models or lack of awareness programs further exacerbates this situation.

  3. Lack of psychological safety: Creating an environment where employees feel safe and supported to come out is essential for fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace. Colleagues who actively support their LGBTQIA+ peers not only help in reducing the fear of discrimination but also demonstrate a commitment to equality and respect. Encouraging open dialogue and providing resources such as LGBTQIA+ affinity groups or support networks can go a long way in making employees feel valued and accepted.


Embracing diversity not only enhances employee wellbeing, but also contributes to a more innovative and productive work environment. Leaders and managers have a pivotal in championing inclusivity and equality for all employees.


Creating inclusive workplaces: supporting LGBTQIA+ employees in coming out at work

Recognising and respecting LGBTQIA+ employees' identities can lead to increased job satisfaction, productivity, and overall employee well-being. Supporting LGBTQIA+ employees in the workplace requires proactive efforts from managers. By promoting awareness, implementing inclusive policies, respecting privacy, practising active listening, and fostering employee networks, managers can create an environment where LGBTQIA+ employees feel safe, valued, and supported. 


Create a psychologically safe space for LGBTQIA+ employees at work

Coming out at work can be a deeply personal and sometimes challenging experience for LGBTQIA+ employees. Organisations should create an environment where employees feel safe and empowered to be their authentic selves. 


This includes implementing non-discrimination policies, promoting gender-neutral facilities, and using inclusive language in all communications. Celebrating Pride Month and other LGBTQIA+ events can also demonstrate the organisation's commitment to diversity and inclusion.


Develop active listening and empathy through core human skills training

To support LGBTQIA+ employees effectively, everyone in the organisation needs to develop core human skills, such as empathy, active listening, and respect. Building emotional intelligence and understanding diverse perspectives are crucial in creating an inclusive workplace culture. 


Organisations can invest in training programs and workshops that enhance these skills and promote inclusivity throughout the workforce. As London Business School professor and co-author of The 100-year Life, Andrew Scott, says “Humans need to get better at being humans as machines get better at being machines”. 


Managers play a crucial role in providing emotional support to employees who come out. Implement training programs that focus on core human skills, such as empathy, active listening, and respectful communication. These skills are crucial for fostering an inclusive and supportive environment. By providing leaders and managers with the tools to understand and empathise with their LGBTQIA+ colleagues, employers can create a culture that values diversity and promotes acceptance.


Our leadership and management courses are designed to empower your current and future leaders with the capabilities, behaviours and mindset needed to future-proof themselves and your organisation. We transform employees at all levels, everywhere in the world, with the human-centred skills to manage people and change, and to be inclusive in a changing world.


Conduct leadership and management training on LGBTQIA+ support

Ensure that managers receive comprehensive training on supporting LGBTQIA+ employees. This training should cover topics such as understanding different sexual orientations and gender identities, recognizing unconscious biases, and creating an inclusive team dynamic. Managers play a vital role in setting the tone for the workplace, and their understanding and support can make a significant difference in an employee's coming-out experience.


Management training equips managers with the skills needed to become effective allies to their LGBTQIA+ employees. This training includes education on LGBTQIA+ terminology, legislation, and best practices. By understanding the nuances of sexual orientation, gender identity, and the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community, managers can offer empathetic support and advocate for the rights and well-being of their team members. This support can manifest through open communication channels, confidential discussions, and proactive measures to address any instances of discrimination or bias.


Promote awareness and education

To cultivate a supportive workplace culture, leaders and managers need to promote awareness and education regarding LGBTQIA+ issues. Organise workshops, seminars, or training sessions that aim to enhance understanding and acceptance of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Encourage open dialogue and provide resources to increase employees' knowledge about LGBTQIA+ experiences.


Provide resources such as guidelines for inclusive language and behaviour, and foster an environment where questions and discussions about diversity are welcomed. Stonewall's glossary provides a good reference point with many LGBTQIA+ terms listed. By nurturing a culture of respect and understanding, you promote a more inclusive and accepting workplace.


Signpost to specialist organisations and support  

Create an open-door policy, where employees feel comfortable approaching you to discuss any challenges. Show understanding, validate their experiences, and offer resources or referrals to LGBTQIA+-friendly support networks if needed. For example, anyone can experience a mental health problem, but LGBTQIA+ employees are more likely to experience issues with their mental health and wellbeing. Mind has a guide on LGBTQIA+ mental health, which contains information about mental health support for this community. 


Ensure there is LGBTQIA+ representation 

Representation is important for LGBTQIA+ employees when coming out at work because it can help to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment. When employees see other LGBTQIA+ people in leadership positions or visible roles, it can send a message that their identities are valued and respected and can foster a sense of belonging and validation. 


This can make it easier for other LGBTQIA+ employees to feel comfortable coming out at work, and it can also help to reduce the stigma and discrimination that they may face. When LGBTQIA+ employees see themselves reflected in the organisation, they are more likely to feel safe, supported, and empowered to be their authentic selves. This enables employees to focus on their tasks rather than expending energy hiding or worrying about their identities.


Establish clear anti-discrimination policies 

Develop and enforce policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Ensure that equality, bullying and harassment policies explicitly protect LGBTQIA+ employees from discrimination, harassment, and bias. Implement gender-neutral bathrooms, update dress codes to be inclusive of diverse expressions, and incorporate gender-inclusive language in company communications.


Communicate these policies effectively to all employees and make them readily accessible. By providing a clear framework for addressing discrimination and harassment, employers can create a safe and welcoming environment for LGBTQIA+ employees.


In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.


Provide comprehensive employee benefits

Review your company's employee benefits package to ensure it is inclusive of LGBTQIA+ individuals, including parental leave, adoption leave, and time off to take care of dependants. Don’t unintentionally exclude LGBTQIA+ families and transgender individuals by using gendered language. Such benefits show a commitment to the well-being of all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Promote LGBTQIA+ employee support networks

Encourage the formation of employee resource groups or LGBTQIA+ affinity networks within your company. These networks provide a safe space for employees to share their experiences, seek guidance, and find mentorship opportunities. By endorsing and participating in these groups, leaders and managers demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and provide opportunities for employees to build a sense of belonging.


Maintain confidentiality and privacy

Respect the privacy of LGBTQIA+ employees who choose to come out at work. Ensure that personal information is handled confidentially and that no unnecessary disclosure or outing occurs without their consent. Encourage open and honest communication, assuring employees that they can trust you to maintain their privacy. 



Living our values: always inclusive 

‘Always inclusive’ is one of our company values. We want to encourage a sense of belonging for our employees and our learners. At Future Talent Learning, we strive to ensure that everyone feels appreciated, respected and supported at all times. Find out more about how we live our values on our About page


Creating a supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ employees requires a multi-faceted approach. By fostering employee support networks, providing leadership and managerial training, and cultivating core human skills, organisations can create an inclusive workplace where LGBTQIA+ employees feel respected, valued, and empowered to bring their whole selves to work. 


Embracing diversity and promoting inclusivity not only benefits the individual employees but also contributes to the overall success and reputation of the organisation. Let us work together to build workplaces that celebrate and uplift everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.


How we use language: We acknowledge that language and terminology continually evolve, and there may not always be a consensus on the meaning of certain terms. 


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