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Despite LGBTQ+ professionals making workplace strides, Accenture research has found that many still fear discrimination for bringing their authentic selves to work. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com)

Accenture Study Finds While LGBTQ+ Employees Advance, Invisible Fears Remain

LGBTQ+ professionals are now just as likely as non-LGBTQ+ individuals to reach managerial levels at their jobs, be satisfied with their progression and aspire to senior leadership roles. By many basic measures, LGBTQ+ employees are living in a more inclusive world where it is easier for them to succeed professionally. However, a recent Accenture (No. 5 on the 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) study revealed that underneath the surface, many LGBTQ+ employees still privately struggle with fears of being their authentic selves on the job. These fears are getting in the way of their potential.

Accenture’s “Visible Growth, Invisible Fears” Pride 2020 study surveyed more than 28,000 employees in organizations across 28 companies to find out in what ways LGBTQ+ workers are succeeding — and feeling held back. Although 37% LGBTQ+ people in the Accenture survey had reached the manager level as opposed to 35% of non-LGBTQ+ people, only 40% of LGBTQ+ respondents said they felt comfortable revealing their gender identities and sexual orientations openly at work.

The Accenture report includes insights from a Human Rights Campaign study and an OutRight Action International report. The data indicates that the LGBTQ+ community is at an increased risk during COVID-19 due to job loss and non-affirming healthcare. The community may experience greater anxiety, fear of stigma and risk of family violence during the pandemic.

Related Story: In Landmark Case, Supreme Court Declares Federal Law Protects LGBTQ+ Individuals From Job Discrimination

Other key findings:

  • 31% of LGBTQ+ people are fully open about their gender identities and sexual orientations at work.
  • 21% of LGBTQ+ senior leaders are fully open.
  • 26% of employees and 18% of leaders said, “only they know about their identities at work.”
  • 57% believe their gender identity, expression or sexual orientation has held them back at work.
  • Nearly 20% of employees who aren’t out at work fear coming out would lead them to face discrimination.
  • 68% of leaders feel they’re fostering empowering and inclusive environments, while 36% of employees agree.
  • 14% of LGBTQ+ employees said they feel their employers truly support them through moves like improving diversity and fostering a welcoming environment.

A previous Accenture study, “The Hidden Value of Culture Makers” discovered large perception gaps in how leaders believed they were leading, versus what was going on in employees’ day-to-day experiences. Accenture estimates that if these gaps narrowed by half, there would be a 33% increase in company profit.

“Culture Makers” are defined as a group of younger, more gender-balanced leaders in the business world. Accenture identified 6% of leaders as “Culture Makers,” and said these leaders are running organizations that are growing twice as fast as their counterparts — and, they report taking more actions to support LGBTQ+ communities. In fact, 34% of “Culture Makers” say they’ve personally campaigned for or spoken publicly about LGBTQ+ rights. Nineteen percent of all leaders have done the same.

When LGBTQ+ leaders are out, LGBTQ+ employees are more likely to feel set up for success. More than 70% of employees said seeing people like them in leadership positions is important to helping them thrive. The same percentage say that support from non-LGBTQ+ colleagues plays a large role in them enjoying being at work.

Accenture used the same 40 influencing advancement factors it identified in “The Hidden Value of Culture Makers” study to identify five issues for employers to address in order to create a workplace where LGBT+ employees in particular can thrive:

  1. Convey bold leadership by talking openly about their own personal issues and challenges.
  2. Take comprehensive action to ensure that flexible working arrangements are not only available, but properly supported and encouraged.
  3. Ensure the workplace is an empowering environment in which employees who are different from the majority are able to settle in quickly and thrive from the outset.
  4. Help employees understand that it’s OK to fail at work sometimes without fear or recrimination.
  5. Cultivate an environment where employees feel safe raising concerns with (and about) leaders, especially when it comes to harassment and discrimination.

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