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What challenges do queer women face in the workplace?

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Statistics around inequality for women in the workplace are both easy to find and damning, like the fact that in 2021, the average gender pay gap among full-time employees was 7.9%. 

Yet queer women face even more barriers to inclusion. A Mckinsey report from 2020 found that three in 20 LGBT+ women believe that their sexual orientation will negatively affect their career advancement at work.  

LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience workplace conflict and harassment than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. Queer women are some of the most likely to face different types of sexual harassment in the workplace, such as touching or assault, which is why zero tolerance approaches must be instated and upheld to make employees feel safer and diversity taken more seriously. 


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Biases and stereotyping are an area that particularly affects queer women. For example, the language used to describe being direct in the workplace often differs depending on whether you’re referring to men or women.  

Women who are direct in the workplace are often seen as ‘bossy’, whereas men are seen as ‘assertive’. This stereotype is compounded by the ‘angry lesbian’ stereotype that still pervades, and so queer women are more likely to ruffle feathers if they are visible and clear in what they want.  

The idea that lesbian or bisexual women are particularly promiscuous is another damaging archetype that can impact relationships at the workplace.  

One way organisations can counter these attitudes is to provide unconscious bias training. All of our corporate employees at Amazon engage in unconscious bias training so that they are better placed to recognise these behaviours and avoid them, and so all our staff can feel comfortable to be themselves. 

Having to come out at work, or choosing not to, is another barrier to LGBT+ women feeling comfortable in the workplace. Valentine’s Day each year sees countless conversations in organisations worldwide around romantic plans, and queer women will have had to decide who they wanted to tell, or how much to disclose about their sexual orientation, for fear of judgement.  

This is a year round occurrence though, and queer women, along with all queer people, have to constantly choose to come out over and over again in our heteronormative society. LGBT+ women are also more than twice as likely as straight women to feel as though they cannot talk about themselves or their life outside work. Many queer women often feel the need to conform to heterosexual norms, which can be extremely draining. 

It’s important to recognise that privilege is a matrix of factors, including race, gender identity, socio-economic background, sexual orientation. Even whether or not you’re a native speaker in the country you live can have an impact on the privilege you have living and working in that country.  

There is no single experience for women, for queer women, or for anybody else. We often like to approach problems of exclusion and bias with silver-bullet solutions, but that’s not good enough. At Amazon, we seek to champion not just the experience archetype (i.e. the experience of women) but to recognise and provide a voice to the intersectional experiences we all bring to the table.  

Our employee resource groups often partner with each other during key events, like Black History Month and International Women’s Day to celebrate our achievements and raise awareness on certain matters. We also offer training and educational opportunities to all our employees, including our leaders, like with our Reverse Mentoring program, but most importantly, we keep talking about it.  

Infusing every day with narratives around intersectionality and lived experience is the best way to counteract biases, and to remind us all that we have a lot we can learn from each other on how to be better colleagues, friends, and allies.  

 

Ceysa McKechnie is UK diversity, equity and inclusion lead at Amazon 

 

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Queer is used in this article as an umbrella term for people who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender and it is part of the LGBT+ umbrella. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people may all identify with the word queer