The United States Department of State recently created a new position, U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons, the first such post ever created by a nation according to the State Department.
According to Secretary of State John Kerry, the role is to coordinate the State Department’s internal policies on LGBT employees and its programs and policies on the rights of LGBT people in other countries by working with “governments, civil society and businesses.”
The issue is a “strategic necessity because greater protections for human rights lead to greater stability and prosperity,” Kerry said when he announced the post in February.
While this is great news for the world stage and a good sign that progress is being made, we still need to be mindful that LGBT people here in the United States still face discrimination on a daily basis, especially in the workplace.
According to the findings of the largest LGBT research initiative, “LGBT2020,” one in every six respondents (16 percent) was harassed at work. To put that into perspective, America is home to an estimated 15 million LGBT people, with more than 10 million currently working full-time. That means that over 1.6 million LGBT Americans personally experienced harassment at work last year.
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement “This is a workplace entirely free from homophobia,” fewer than one in five (18 percent) agreed with the statement.
Almost one in two respondents (49 percent) saw or heard homophobic incidents last year.
When put into a business perspective, these results lead to increase turnover, greater difficulty recruiting top talent, lower employee engagement and decreases in productivity.
According to Paul Meshanko in his book, The Respect Effect, “While disrespect comes in many forms, it almost always damages performance. The primary reason is that it takes energy to respond and protect ourselves from disrespectful behaviors. Every time our brain has to divert its attention and energy to manage disrespectful elements within our environment, it represents a lost opportunity for the organization.”
LGBT employees who work for organizations that do not openly have policies and programs of inclusion for LGBT workers expend great deals of energy and effort trying to protect themselves from disrespectful behaviors; energy lost that could have been spent productively working.
So while the United States government has sent a strong message to the world on where we stand on LGBT human rights, we need to make sure that our own backyard is in order and that our US companies have inclusive policies and practices that support their LGBT employees.
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