Being a Gay Woman in the Modern Workplace


With same-sex marriage legalised in most western countries and many battles on discrimination against LGBT+ people won, we like to think we live in a world where being a gay woman will no longer have a negative impact on your professional life. More than 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, while 60 percent of those include domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. The Equality Act of 2010 makes it illegal for employers in the UK to discriminate against gay people and requires equal access to private and public services. Having policies and laws in place is one thing, how they play out in the real world is entirely different.

A recent study from New York University found that LGBT+ indicators on CVs made female applicants 30 percent less likely to get a phone call from interested employers. Emma Mishel, a researcher on the study, explained, “When you look at my work history, it’s a lot of LGBT organizations, so it’s pretty obvious that I’m queer.” 

Even when lesbians do get hired they are far more likely to face workplace harassment and bullying. In America, a study from UCLA’s Williams Institute found up to 41 percent of LGBT+ employees had been “verbally or physically abused or had their workplace vandalized.” While 1 in 6 had reported that their sexual orientation stood in the way of career advancement, or lead to them being let go.

The Williams Institute also found 7.6 percent of lesbian couples live below the poverty line, as opposed to the 5.7 percent of heterosexual couples.

"Lesbian and gay women are still finding it hard to be themselves in the workplace and worse still, those who are out at work have had negative experiences including discrimination."

In the UK, the situation isn’t much better. A study commissioned by the British LGBT Awards of 1,200 lesbian and bisexual women across the UK found that 64 percent of them had experienced negative treatment at work in the form of sexual discrimination, inappropriate language, lack of opportunity or bullying. 73 percent said they were not completely out to colleagues, and 86 percent said there was a desperate need for more lesbian and bisexual women in senior roles to boost visibility and provide role models for other women. 

Sarah Garret, founder of the British LGBT Awards, said: “The results are startling and clearly show that in 2016 lesbian and gay women are still finding it hard to be themselves in the workplace and worse still, those who are out at work have had negative experiences including discrimination, bullying and reduced opportunities to progress compared to male counterparts.

“The findings are worrying and show that a lot of work remains to be done to change attitudes and promote acceptance.”