Homophobia in the workplace

Sixty per cent of Canadians believe that being gay or lesbian can jeopardize a career
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 06/02/2006

Workplace diversity is a badge many Canadian organizations wear proudly, but it seems some organizations are missing the point. According to a new study carried out by Leger Marketing on behalf of Fondation Émergence, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, and Gai Écoute, a telephonic crisis and information service, homophobia is alive and well in corporate Canada.

The study found that 60 per cent of Canadians believe that being gay or lesbian can hinder an employee’s career prospects. This is not surprising as 28 per cent of the 1,525 Canadians polled have witnessed hostile behaviour towards a homosexual person at work.

Following enormous progress over the past few years, employers may be inclined to believe that legal victories ought to have put an end to homophobia. “Unfortunately, it’s not so — homophobia is surfacing in other ways. It’s getting more and more subtle and is becoming less visible,” said Fondation Émergence president Laurent McCutcheon.

Over half of those surveyed feel that for people who are openly gay, it is difficult to gain acceptance by management and colleagues as well as by clients with whom they do business.

“In this environment, it’s not surprising to see that many employees choose to keep their orientation to themselves when at work. Being gay or lesbian isn’t the problem; the real issue is a homophobic environment,” said McCutcheon.

As always, HR professionals have a role to play and they need to be aware of the economic impact of homophobia on the bottom line, said Gens Hellquist, executive director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition.

“If HR professionals are not providing a safe workplace for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees they are losing productivity."

Hellquist recommends taking the following steps to create a more inclusive workplace:

• When developing diversity programs or policies don’t forget to consider gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) employees.

• Be proactive in creating a supportive environment. For example, display supportive GLBT education materials and make it clear that there is no place for homophobia in the workplace.

• Educate the workforce. Roll out GLBT-specific sensitivity training for all employees.

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