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Coming Out as LGBT at Work? Where You Live Matters

16/01/2015 01:55 GMT | Updated 17/03/2015 09:59 GMT

A research study being released by Out Now at the end of the month shows which are the best places, out of more than twenty countries tested, to be openly LGBT at work - and the USA doesn't make the Top 5.

Deciding whether to come out at work is not usually easy - and where you live can make a big difference.

The findings are part of a new report called 'LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case' which shows that businesses - as well as their employees - benefit a lot when workers feel comfortable being 'out' about their sexual orientation or gender identity with work colleagues.

The study measures the extent of very real concerns held by LGBT people - such as fear of harassment from colleagues or being passed over for promotion if they decide to come out as LGBT at work.

There is good news for some larger companies, who are already taking leadership roles in workplace equality initiatives for LGBT staff. That corporate support for LGBT workers is particularly significant, given the current reluctance of a majority of LGBT people in most countries to come out at work.

Working for an employer with good policies on diversity and inclusion is life-changing according to respondents in the research.

The research shows that when staff are not out to anyone, or to only a few people, it is detrimental to a company's overall business performance. There is a strong negative impact from losing valuable staff members, who become much more likely to quit a workplace they perceive as unsupportive, usually leaving without explaining the real reason they left.

On the positive side, the new report reveals substantial increases in reported productivity levels where workers feel able to safely come out to all their colleagues at work.

The report is part of the LGBT2020 global research initiative, which is the largest global study into the lives of LGBT people. Since 2010 the project has collected information from over 100,000 people in more than 20 countries.

LGBT2020 data reveals that a majority of LGBT workers in almost all countries tested are not out to everyone in their workplaces.

A key finding - Out to all work colleagues

1. 66% Netherlands

2. 51% Australia

3. 45% UK

3. 45% Ireland

5. 42% Canada

Data source: 'LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case' report, Out Now, 2015. Top 5 countries from all countries surveyed, 2010-2014, in the LGBT2020 global research initiative.

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The USA study results are a cause for concern as there has been a significant 6% decline, over the past two years, to just 38% of US LGBT workers in 2014 reporting they are able to be out to everyone at work (2012 sample, LGBT2020 Study: same figure was then 44%.)

Better LGBT Diversity is Smart Business

The new research also quantifies substantial business savings able to be achieved by providing workplaces where more staff feel comfortable to be 'out to all' at work. As well as productivity gains and better engagement, staff retention is dramatically improved when LGBT workers know that coming out in their own workplace is not a problem. In the 'Workers' Voices' section of the report - individuals recount their experiences and show how being able to be out at work makes an immense difference to LGBT people's quality of life.

The number one global insurance brand - AXA - announced this week that it joins the project as 'Premier Sponsor' for the release of the research. Christiane Bisanzio, Head of Human Resources for the Northern, Central & Eastern European region and AXA Group Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, says the new research is important for businesses and their relationships with employees.

"We already know that we all work best when we are most satisfied with our workplace situations so we are pleased to be 'Premier Sponsor' of Out Now's new 'LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case' report," Ms. Bisanzio says. "AXA is passionately committed to being a leader in the field of workplace diversity & inclusion and our support of this research is in line with that commitment. We understand that the better we help our employees bring their whole selves to work, the better we can earn our position as an employer of choice. We see support for LGBT diversity in our workplaces as being not only the right thing to do, but also an important part of our overall business objectives."

AXA is launching a new global inclusion initiative next month - 'Allies@AXA Pride' - to help LGBT employees in every country enjoy supportive workplaces.

Being Out? Think Global

Andres Reyes, Latin America Specialist with Out Now who is based in Mexico expects the new research to make a big difference to the lives of LGBT people across the region.

"Latin America is home to the fastest growing places for LGBT developments across society with much faster social changes here than was seen in more developed countries 30 or more years ago," Reyes said. "We are seeing a lot more marriage equality initiatives being enacted into law in Latin America, but one of the big areas still needing to improve is the workplace. In Mexico for example, just 27% of LGBT people are out to everyone at work. If people can't be open about who they are that is bad for business and achieving the kinds of savings the new report shows are possible is incredibly important - and valuable. We expect to see more positive change for LGBT people in the years ahead right across the Latin America region, and the workplace is becoming the frontline for these changes."

According to Out Now's Senior Consultant in London, Darren Cooper, the new report can help business and LGBT workers in a number of ways.

"So often we hear mention of the need for business to substantiate their investment in LGBT diversity policies," Cooper said. "Now, for the first time, this new report enables that to be done. Measuring savings and increased productivity gains from moving workers from being out to no-one to being out with all of their work colleagues is really important to business. It makes a real difference for the better in LGBT people's lives when their employer understands how much they have to gain from building better workplaces for all workers. This is good for business - and most importantly, it is going to help improve millions of LGBT people's daily lives."