Corporations have made great progress over the past decade creating more-welcoming environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees. Today 85% of Fortune 500 companies have protective policies that address sexual orientation—up from 51% in 2000. Nonetheless, surveys show that many LGBT employees still view their sexual orientation as a hindrance on the job: Fully 48% of LGBT respondents report remaining “closeted” at work.
Our research suggests that many are hiding needlessly and that “out” workers may stand a better chance than closeted workers of being promoted (although there are still relatively few openly gay senior executives). This appears to be the case largely because closeted workers suffer anxiety about how colleagues and managers might judge them and expend enormous effort concealing their orientation, which leaves them less energy for actual work. Further, LGBT workers who feel forced to lie about their identity and relationships typically don’t engage in collegial banter about such things as weekend activities—banter that forges important workplace bonds. Some 42% of closeted employees said they felt isolated at work, versus only 24% of openly LGBT employees. These factors may explain why 52% of all closeted employees, but just 36% of out employees, believe their careers have stalled. The disparity is greatest among midlevel employees, with 70% of closeted middle managers reporting that they feel stalled, versus 51% of openly LGBT middle managers.
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