LGBT workers harassed as they try to do their jobs

Team huddle
Stepping into work is like stepping into a typhoon for some LGBT employees. (Tom Merton/OJO Images/Getty Plus Images)

For all the strides made by the LGBT community, it is still very vulnerable in the workplace, with a survey finding two in five LGBT workers (40%) feeling bullied at work and 56% of those affected saying they have been bullied repeatedly.

The nationwide survey was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 3,420 full-time workers—LGBT and non—across various industries and company sizes.

Bullying takes many forms. Fifty-three percent of bullied LGBT workers say they were harassed by one person, and 13% say it happened in a group setting. Fourteen percent of bullied LGBT workers say they were harassed by someone younger, and 61% say they were bullied by someone older.

In the most common examples, LGBT workers who were bullied at work were

  • falsely accused of mistakes they didn't make (61%).
  • ignored—comments were dismissed or not acknowledged (50%).
  • held to different standards/policies than other workers (49%).
  • gossiped about (47%).
  • picked on for personal attributes (race, gender, appearance) (42%).
  • constantly criticized by boss or co-workers (40%).
  • negatively impacted by someone else not performing certain duties (40%).
  • purposely excluded from projects or meetings (31%).
  • belittled by comments made about their work during meetings (28%).

Some companies are fighting back against bullying. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals is among what is believed to be the several hundred companies with US operations that have formal diversity programs that address all sorts of harassment. Nancy Di Dia, a diversity and inclusion officer at the 47,000-employee company, including 9,000 in the US, said the study’s findings about bullying “are not surprising. I do this work for a living,” referring to seeing it occur.

At Boehringer, an allegation is investigated and if found to be true, the offending employee is dismissed. “We don’t tolerate harassment, [inappropriate] joking or intolerance,” Di Dia said.

Nicole Blythe, national managing partner of People Experience at Grant Thornton, said the consulting firm is also taking steps. Grant Thornton has a SafeSpace program that LGBT employees can go to and receive feedback from peers if they feel, among other things, they have been insulted or bullied. From there it can go to HR if warranted.

Consequences of bullying

Being bullied can have many effects, many long lasting, and LGBT workers are feeling the consequences. Of those LGBT workers who were bullied at work, 15% have called in sick as a result. Forty-one percent of LGBT workers who have been bullied at work have left a job because they have felt bullied.

Recommended ways of dealing with workplace bullying:

  • Take notes. Document interactions with the bully. Keep these notes in a private place, and use them if you need to show the bullying pattern to a third party, such as your company's HR department.
  • Rise above, but don't be afraid to confront. At first, try to minimize time spent around the bully, and ignore any bullying behavior. But sometimes, enough is enough, and you need to confront them. Explain how the negative treatment makes you feel, and ask them to stop. Sometimes perpetrators are not aware of the effect their actions have. Fifty-three percent of workers who were bullied at work confronted their bully, and 20% said the bullying stopped.
  • Bring in the experts. Seventy-two percent of workers who were bullied at work did not report it to HR. An HR team is trained in dealing with workplace conflict, and can step in to help solve the issue.

“People say things they think are okay, but are very wrong,” said Steven Gaines, an LGBT activist. “The only way to make headway against this is to report it, and keep doing so.”