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The cost of closeting: the economic impact of suppressing queer and trans identities at work

Many of us in the LGBT+ community still face discrimination and lost opportunities at work, but for countless others, there's an added burden, an invisible weight, a stifling secret, they remain closeted at work, and it's costing us – in more ways than one.

Looking at the Trans employee workplace experiences survey from 2021 we can see that many from the LGBT+ community simply don’t want to be out at work, and it’s not getting better for trans people.

In 2016, around half (52%) of trans people didn’t reveal their gender identity at work – in 2021, the number is closer to two-thirds (65%).

This is further reinforced by the Stonewall LGBT In Britain – Work Report of 2018 where it was found that more than a third of LGBT+ staff (35%) have hidden that they are LGBT+ at work for fear of discrimination.

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There is a high personal toll of closeting when people from the LGBT+ community, whether that is their sexuality or gender identity or both. Why? Because they fear losing their job, facing discrimination, or even worse.

Coming out is no walk in the park, and everyone's journey is a unique rollercoaster.

Imagine consistently having to hide parts of your identity. The constant self-censorship, the mental gymnastics of shaping every conversation so as not to give anything away. It's emotionally and mentally exhausting.

This strain detracts from job satisfaction and engagement, and ultimately, performance suffers.

Let's get one thing straight – or rather, not straight at all. Forcing queer and trans individuals to suppress their authentic selves isn't just a personal travesty, it's a business blunder. And I mean that in pounds and pence, not just in feelings.

When looking at the bottom line, let’s start by talking about employee turnover. We're all familiar with the burden of recruitment – sifting through CVs, conducting interviews, empty seat costs, project delays, onboarding, and training new staff.

It's time-consuming, expensive, and completely avoidable if we fostered an inclusive work environment. Queer and trans employees who fear rejection or face discrimination are more likely to jump ship to seek safer shores.

We're haemorrhaging talent, and that's hitting our bottom line. People rarely stick around to try and change the culture of a toxic organisation – they will vote with their feet.

And then there's the issue of innovation. We’ve seen the stats, yes we know that diverse teams breed more creative solutions.

We also know that they bring different perspectives, challenge status-quo thinking, and spark brilliant ideas. Yet we continue to stifle queer and trans identities thereby limiting our companies' intellectual capital.

We're not just talking about dampening spirits and putting the rainbows in the bottom drawer once Pride Month is over; we're talking about tangibly diminishing profits.

But enough of the gloom and doom. Here's the silver lining. When we get inclusion right, it's not just a morally sound choice, it's a profitable one.

Organisations that actively support their queer and trans employees see higher engagement, lower staff turnover and better financial performance.

So, how do we, as leaders and HR professionals, right this wrong, and do we care enough to even want to?

We need to overhaul our HR policies, offer diversity and inclusion training, and foster a culture of allyship.

Seriously, these aren't merely buzzwords, they're powerful tools that transform workplaces. Representation matters too; it's high time our leadership reflected the diversity of the real world.

Companies that have embraced this reality are reaping the rewards. Look at Google, for instance. Their unyielding commitment to fostering an LGBT+ inclusive culture has earned them both admiration and economic success. And they're not alone.

Companies across the globe are proving that inclusion isn't just the right thing to do, it's also smart business. Because at the end of the day, we're in the business of people, and everyone deserves to be their authentic selves – don’t you agree?

Joanne Lockwood is inclusive culture expert and CEO at SEE Change Happen