Should queer (and ace) people be part of workplace diversity policies?

Since starting full-time work, I have been thinking a lot about the intersection of queerness/asexuality and the workplace. In my last post I talked more specifically about coming out as ace at work and what that might entail. More recently, I’ve been thinking about a slightly broader question, of whether queer (and I’m using queer as an umbrella for all gender and sexual minorities, including ace folks) people belong in workplace diversity and inclusion policies. Specifically, in more than a purely anti-discrimination sense.

From what I’ve seen and heard so far, the public service where I work is very good at recognising diversity and promoting inclusion, and mostly that encompasses queer people too. There are express statements against marginalising or discriminating against someone on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity or cultural background, religion, sexuality, disability, and probably other things I haven’t listed as well. This is the very basic stuff, the (usually legislated) stuff that say that you can’t get fired because you happen to have a disability, or are seen at a pride march, or wear specific religious or cultural attire, etc.

Beyond anti-discrimination legislation and policy, though, is a further level to inclusion, usually in the form of diversity and inclusion policies and strategies, and this is what I’ve been thinking about more specifically. For example, some groups have policies that actively encourage and support the full participation of minority groups in the workforce, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disability and culturally and linguistically diverse people. That active encouragement and support is something I absolutely agree with, because those groups are historically and currently under-represented in the workforce, especially in higher positions, and often have valuable perspectives and worldviews to share. Currently there is also a big push towards gender equity, especially in leadership roles, because even though women are not a minority per se, there is still a systematic disadvantage faced by women in the workforce, especially those who have kids or have other intersecting identities. This is all really good stuff.

However, one thing I have not seen much of is policies encouraging and supporting queer people as a minority group. Queer people are included when it comes to anti-discrimination policies, but don’t seem to feature in inclusion and diversity strategies much beyond that.

One of the things I read recently is my workplace’s Inclusion and Diversity Strategy for 2015-2020, because it’s something I’m interested in generally, and because I was curious to see whether sexual orientation was addressed at all. As far as diversity strategies go, it’s actually really good. There’s a real emphasis on the benefits of diversity in the workplace, not just from a representational point of view, but also in terms of the breadth of different experiences and new perspectives a diverse workforce creates. Supporting the overall strategy are individual plans, strategies and frameworks targeting specific groups: there are two frameworks relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inclusion, a gender equity strategy, a multicultural policy and action plan, and disability service plans. (These are all excellent initiatives.)

But the thing that is largely missing is any mention of sexual orientation as a marker for diversity, or the inclusion and valuing of queer people in the workplace. There are three mentions of queer people in the 22-page strategy document- sexual orientation is included in a diagram of visible and invisible aspects of diversity, in a statistic saying that 73% of respondents to a workplace survey thought that sexual orientation was not a barrier to success in the organisation, and in a list of suggested actions at the end of the document, which mentions becoming a member of a external LGBTI employer equity program. Apart from those small references, none of the areas of the document specifically cover the inclusion of queer people, and as far as I can tell, there are no other or strategies or action plans that talk about sexual orientation and diversity.

(In a small aside: my department ran several events and stalls for International Women’s Day earlier in the month. I had a chat to one of the people who had organised the events, and asked whether there was going to be anything for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. There were no plans she knew of. A second small aside: one of the things I somewhat nervously did at the end of my induction week was ask my graduate program’s coordinator whether there was any form of public service queer or ally network I could join, like there had been at my university. There wasn’t.)

Three small references don’t do much in the way of convincing me that queer people are meant to be a part of the diversity and inclusion strategy. But should they be? Does sexual orientation rate alongside things like disability, cultural background, and gender equity in the workplace?

I don’t have any definitive answer for that question, but my gut feeling tells me that yes, they probably should be. While you probably can’t say, for example, that the challenges faced by someone with a disability, or the systemic and historical disadvantage faced by ATSI people are in line with the challenges queer people in the workplace face, I think there are still disadvantages that queer people experience that warrant their inclusion in diversity policies. That statistic above – that 73% of people in my organisation thought sexual orientation wasn’t a barrier to success – still suggests that 27% of people did (to some extent, at least) think it was. (There’s no indication of whether those 73% identified as queer or not.) I’ve read a lot recently about how queer people who are not out at work, or have to be secretive about their identity, tend not to be as comfortable, successful, or productive in the workplace. I’m pretty sure that queer people are under-represented (visibly, at least) when it comes to leadership, executive positions and role models – but I haven’t dug up any statistics on it, so I may be wrong. I would be surprised though. And discrimination and harassment still occurs on a frequent basis, from getting fired, passed over for promotion or bad performance reviews, to everyday harassment in the office. Without falling into the trap of playing Oppression Olympics, those seem to me to be pretty good indicators that queer people do face challenges in the workplace that explicit inclusion in diversity policies could help to combat.

Yet there’s still a niggling feeling of doubt in my head, one that says that queer people (especially queer people like myself, who are white and young and able-bodied and not-very-visibly queer) shouldn’t need any extra support in the workplace. That queer people don’t face enough challenges in the workplace to warrant any targeted measures for increasing their inclusion, that I’m stepping on ‘actually disadvantaged’ people’s toes in suggesting queer people be included. I’m not exactly sure where that comes from. So I thought I’d throw this post out there and see what everyone else thought – do queer (and ace) people have a place in workplace diversity, beyond anti-discrimination measures? Could queer people be considered ‘diversity hires?’ Should workplaces be actively targeting queer people with inclusion policies?


Cross-posted from A Life Unexamined.

About Jo

Jo is an ancient history honours student in Australia, with a particular interest in gender and sexuality in antiquity. In her free time she devours books, tea and Doctor Who, but is honestly not that into cake, and proudly calls herself a feminist and an activist. She identifies an an aromantic asexual a little bit more every day. Jo also blogs at A Life Unexamined on feminism and asexuality.
This entry was posted in Articles, asexual politics, Coming out, LGBT and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Should queer (and ace) people be part of workplace diversity policies?

  1. epochryphal says:

    given that “gender equity” is constantly interpreted to mean cis women only, and that a huge part of anti-queer treatment (including unconscious bias) comes from interpreting people as gender non-conforming

    and the results of the national transgender discrimination survey

    and workplace problems for folks who transition or who are non-binary or genderfluid, and (illegal) boundaries around “you shouldn’t be out to clients, it’ll just cause problems” — and questions of bathroom use, gendered professional dress codes, rules around interactions with “opposite” gendered clients

    and so many more things like how often heterosexual partners get brought up as a non-taboo form of bonding that requires reciprocation or else you’re being hostile, but outing yourself can also be interpreted as unprofessional and too personal

    …i’d say there’s a whole host of barriers to queer employment that need conscious addressing and could be better met by workplace initiatives, yes.

    • Grey Wanders says:

      ^^^ Yes, these things.

      I see where the feeling of doubt comes from, because maybe some bits of the big queer lump don’t need extra support, but other bits hella need it (trans people trans people trans people), and it’s easier (and I think better) to support the entire lump than to try to strain out only those pieces which have x many oppression points.

  2. Hollis says:

    I think queer folks should be included. But I think that some, particularly more “””liberal””” spaces will use queer/straight and gender (aka women) diversity to say that they’re diverse while ignore problems with racism. It was something that I noticed at my college, and it’s something that I’ve noticed other places as well.

    I have pretty strong feelings on queer folks being included for diversity as a nonbinary person who is pretty visibly queer, though I’m usually only read as trans in more liberal spaces. I’ve definitely run into “””professionalism””” and my lack of it by simply existing, and it really sucks. Also, I’ve run into bathroom issues P L E N T Y (though mostly at workplaces that don’t have any nondiscrimination policy and really aren’t liberal), and it’d be cool if more than lip service was paid to diversity and inclusivity in that area.

    And that’s not to say that only gender non-conforming queer folks should get extra support in the workplace, but I think it’s less obvious? as to how to include non-stereotypically queer folks in stuff because they aren’t as visible to diversity. Coming and working in a conservative area, I also think that it’s harder to actively support queer folks. This is in general, but if you’ve got a GNC staff person that’s at least tacit endorsement of them/queer people, but if your queer folks don’t “look” queer, people will accuse you of pandering/drawing attention to their sexuality and cue the clutching of the pearls by various customers and people in the field. This isn’t to excuse that sort of behavior or not supporting queer folks, but it’s something I do sympathize with because I really honestly do play down my queerness in front of customers for fear of retribution from them, and it sucks, and I can see wanting to play that down on a company level for the survival of your company. I don’t like it, but I do understand it.

  3. My mother works for Intercontinental Hotels Group and they have inclusion measures for queer people. They especially pride themselves on being a safe environment for gay and trans adults, which is majorly important as the branch my mom works at is in the American deep south. It seems logically that this should be something that all companies do.

    On the other hand, being disabled and facing discrimination in university before I’ve even made it to the work world, having clear inclusion based on my status as ace doesn’t even begin to cross my mind. It’s not something that seems relevant to my work as a graduate assistant and it certainly isn’t something my coworkers or program director remotely care about. Being disabled is a constant issue. It limits the assignments I can be given as I can’t lift or carry things over twenty pounds. It causes tension with other GAs when I get paid the same as them for doing things they don’t see as being as labour intensive. (Which isn’t actually true. Paperwork is more intellectually challenging than carrying bags of sand and oysters across the marina.) So, really, asking for special programs or events for queer inclusion just seems unnecessary and like it would keep resources away from disability inclusion, which is already not given priority.

    • Jo says:

      I don’t doubt that disability comes with a huge range of challenges in terms of workplace inclusion and discrimination, and I also think it’s super important for there to be resources for this. Support for one group should never come at the expense of another group – but for workplaces like my own that do have solid disability policies, that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be anything for queer support and inclusion because another group, does it? (I am trying to steer away from the whole oppression olympics idea here).

      • Well, I can only speak to what I know. I’m not saying one is inherently more important than the other, I’m just saying that in my experience the queer oppression I’ve seen in university and work is nonexistent. And it isn’t that I’m not paying attention to it as someone who is occasionally straight-passing. My partner is a gay man so I am well aware of the issues that could arise in these kinds of environments. It isn’t about having the “oppression olympics.” It is about addressing issues, and in my experience only one of the two groups has an issue to be addressed. However, I know this does not work for everywhere. It’s rather a miracle that there isn’t a queer inclusivity problem in this graduate program. In places that have a problem with inclusion then it should certainly be addressed, but in my experience it isn’t necessary. Just providing an alternative viewpoint.

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