Small actions can have a big impact on society. In 2010, Brittany McMillan, a teenage student in Canada, published a post on Tumblr inviting students to show their support in response to several bullying-related suicides of LGBTQ youth. The post received about 28,000 likes and reblogs.
Little did she know that Tumblr post would eventually become the world's largest and most prominent LGBTQ anti-bullying initiative, Spirit Day.
You might be wondering, "Why are people wearing purple today?" Every year on October 20, millions worldwide wear something purple to join Spirit Day, stand against bullying, give visibility and support LGBTQ youth. Especially trans and nonbinary youth, who are experiencing a high level of scrutiny, discrimination, and cyberbullying in schools.
Spirit Day was created to support LGBTQ youth at schools. However, it's important to remember that workplace discrimination and harassment exist and affect young people and adults of all ages. All employees must stand against bullying and discrimination in order to have a truly diverse company.
In this article, we'll go through ways to create inclusive spaces in the workplace to make employees feel safe, respected, and valued, which positively impacts their potential.
Bullying at Work and Discrimination Are Still Problems in 2022
Bullying can occur at any point in a person's life; unfortunately, it's not uncommon in the workplace. But what exactly is workplace bullying?
Bullying at work is repeated and unwanted abuse directed towards an employee or group of employees. This abuse can be verbal, physical, or psychological.
Bullying is driven by prejudice, and some employees may be targeted because of their sexual orientation, race, gender, age, religion, or disabilities. All bullying experiences from victims are valid. But in this article, we'll focus on workplace discrimination toward the LGBTQ community.
Signs of Workplace Bullying Towards the LGBTQ Community
According to UCLA's William Institute, 46% of LGBTQ workers have experienced unfair treatment at work in their lifetime. Harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and threats are examples of such treatments. These conducts can occur in private, in front of coworkers, or front of customers.
Bullying at work can also be subtle and silent, affecting someone's job or position in various ways. It can be difficult to spot at times and may go unnoticed by coworkers or supervisors.
Here are some signs of workplace bullying:
- Isolation. Removing the employee from projects, conversations, and work-related and social events.
- Gossip. Spreading or making up rumors behind the employee's back.
- Minimization. Ignoring or rejecting the employee's ideas, suggestions, or questions.
- Intrusion. Invading the employee's personal space or work area.
- Criticism. Give unwanted criticism about the employee's work, appearance, or personal life.
- Intimidation. Scaring or threatening the employee.
Standing against bullying behaviors is something that we should all do. If you see something, say something.
How Does Bullying at Work Affect LGBTQ Employees
A safe work environment is one in which employees can feel secure and free to be themselves and in which there's a positive work environment that promotes respect for all. Unfortunately, not all jobs are created equal. Some companies continue to give little importance to workplace culture and the well-being of employees.
When LGBTQ employees realize they're not working in a safe environment or know of someone who has been discriminated against or harassed by a workplace bully, it's difficult for them to regain their sense of safety. Many are affected by it and must take steps to avoid workplace bullying.
Here's how LGBTQ employees are affected by bullying at work, according to the report "LGBT People's Experiences of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment" by the Williams Institute at the University of California:
This report examines the experiences of LGBTQ adults in the workplace based on a survey of 935 LGBTQ adults conducted in May 2021. It measured discrimination over a lifetime, five years, and one year among adults working as of March 2020, just before many workplaces were forced to close due to COVID-19.
How well do you know your coworkers? You may know that some are huge gamers, that others have recently begun dating or are about to marry, or that some of your friends from Marketing love Game of Thrones. We usually get to know our coworkers' lives through what they share with us or what we see on their desks or workspaces. For LGBTQ employees, sharing their personal and social lives isn't always easy. That's why they decide to "cover" certain aspects of their lives.
LGBTQ employees use "covering" behaviors to avoid discrimination and workplace bullying. Some examples of covering include changing their appearance or how they dress, not talking about their families and partners, or simply trying to "tone down" who they are to fit in. Some even engage in these behaviors because their supervisors or coworkers told them to do it.
2. Coming Out at Work
One way to avoid bullying at work isn't coming out to supervisors and co-workers. The Williams Institute Report showed that 50.4% of employees are not open about being LGBTQ in the workplace, and 25.8% are not out to any co-workers. Those who choose to come out to their colleagues are three times more likely to face discrimination at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity than those who don't come out to anyone (53.3% compared to 17.9%).
3. Workplace Culture
Of the LGBTQ employees interviewed, two-thirds (67.5%) of them have heard or experienced jokes, slurs, and negative comments about them. Some workplaces still lack policies and processes that help feel safe for LGBTQ members of a company. But that's not enough, a business should live by these rules, and they should be reflected in how leaders, managers, and colleagues treat LGBTQ members.
Some great examples of workplace policies and initiatives for the LGBTQ community are:
- Create a policy that prohibits discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
- HR systems and documents that are gender and pronoun inclusive.
- Restrooms that are all-gender or gender-neutral so employees feel more comfortable.
- Medical leave for employees who are transitioning.
- A family-leave policy that treats all parents equally.
4. Mental Health
Workplace discrimination or harassment can significantly impact someone's mental and physical health and should not be taken lightly. According to the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, workplace bullying is associated with mental health problems such as:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sleep issues
- Back and neck pain
- Cardiovascular problems
Unfortunately, LGBTQ people are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. Also, according to the Trevor Project's 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, there are some significant key findings in their study concerning mental health issues in the LGBTQ community, particularly among youth:
- 36% of LGBTQ youth reported being physically threatened or harmed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Anxiety symptoms were reported by 73% of LGBTQ youth.
- 58% of LGBTQ youth reported having depression symptoms.
5. Retention of Employees
When LGBTQ employees face bullying at work, some may decide to stay, while others cannot stand being in an environment where they are not valued. One-third (34.2%) of LGBTQ employees said they quit their job because of how their employer treated them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Many things happen when LGBTQ people face workplace discrimination, from mental and physical health problems to people quitting their jobs. Learning to deal with workplace bullies and improving workplace culture quality is critical for employee well-being.
How to Deal With Bullies at Work?
October is known as the anti-bullying month of the year, and there is also an anti-bullying day known as National Stop Bullying Day, commemorated on October 12.
We've learned that bullying at work can be silent and sometimes unknown by some coworkers. A recent study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 79.3 million US workers are affected by workplace bullying. Times have changed, and remote work has become the new normal. But this doesn't mean that bullying has stopped. Bullying at work continues to exist via conference calls and emails.
Bullies frequently get away with their actions because no one reports them; some are in positions of power or are huge assets to the company. Although these behaviors should not be tolerated, some companies choose to ignore them. Sadly, no federal law in the United States specifically targets workplace bullying, making it difficult to report it to the authorities. Although some states are making progress, there's still a long way to go.
Standing against bullying should be something all employees stand for. But how to deal with bullies at work? It's not an easy task, but in this section, we'll give you tips on spotting it and stopping it on time:
1. Speak From the Beginning
That's right, dealing with bullying at work from the beginning is one of the best things someone can do. It will probably worsen if you let it go and say nothing. We know confrontation can be hard to deal with in the workplace, but speaking up for yourself is the right thing to do. We're not at a schoolyard; it's a job where everyone is expected to be an adult and do their responsibilities, so exposing the bully's immature behavior can prevent harassment from occurring in the first place.
If this option sounds too extreme, there are other ways to deal with bullies at work.
2. Document Everything
If you're planning on telling someone about a workplace bully, we recommend you document everything that person does or says to you. Be specific and write down dates, where it occurred, or if more people were there. If the workplace bullying occurs via email, remember to download them. This documentation will be valuable information if you decide to speak out.
3. Tell Someone
It can be difficult to deal with bullying at work on your own. Telling a coworker, you trust about what's going on can help you release all of your feelings about it, clear your mind, and get a second opinion on how to handle the situation. If you don't want to tell someone from work, talk to a family member, a counselor, or a therapist.
4. Company Policies
Find out whether the company has anti-bullying policies or procedures. Some businesses also have internal sites where you can file anonymous complaints about workplace misconduct or bullying.
5. Talk to Your Manager or HR
If your manager isn't the workplace bully, you should approach them for assistance and advice. They can even speak with the appropriate person in HR. If speaking with your manager isn't an option, you'll have to deal with HR independently.
Human resource is a broad field, so look for someone who manages culture and people; this person is the best option to talk to about workplace bullying. Remember to carry all your documentation and address these issues on how they negatively impact your productivity and well-being at work.
If you've done everything you can and the company isn't doing anything to help you, and the problem is affecting your mental health, then staying in that job is not worth it. It's better to leave than to try to change the unchangeable. We recommend starting your job search before leaving the company; this is a safer option for your finances.
Always prioritize yourself and look for places where you're valued as a person and for the work you do.
Why is an Inclusive Workplace Good for Your Business?
Diversity and inclusion are crucial parts of a company's success. Yet some companies still lack a diverse workforce. Before we begin, we must distinguish between the two:
- Diversity. The representation and involvement of an entity or group of people from different ethnic and social backgrounds, as well as people of various genders, sexual orientations, and sexual identities.
- Inclusion. The practice of involving and providing opportunities in the workplace to minority groups that would otherwise be excluded or marginalized.
Now that we know what these mean, here are some benefits of having an inclusive and diverse business:
Employees are more likely to stay with a company if they believe they are valued and treated fairly, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age. According to Great Place to Work, a company that values diversity and inclusion has a 5.4 times higher chance of retaining employees.
2. Sense of Belonging
Making LGBTQ employees feel included requires the involvement of all employees, but especially leaders, managers, and personnel decision-makers.
It starts with educating the team, implementing policies and benefits that support the LGBTQ community, and finally expressing it with tangible actions because you can't preach what you don't practice.
Some valuable and tangible actions are respecting your employees' identities and pronouns, promoting inclusion, placing flags at your desk, volunteering, sponsoring LGBTQ events such as Pride, Spirit Day, celebrating the anti-bullying month, and anti-bullying day, and leading by example inside and outside the organization.
3. Happy Employees
If your company promotes inclusion and diversity, your employees will be happier. Employees are 9.8 times more likely to look forward to going to work if they feel like they work at a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Teams and organizations thrive when their workforce is diverse because everyone brings something new to the table, such as experiences, talents, skills, and broader perspectives. Diversity is extremely beneficial to productivity and growth.
5. More Open to Innovation
This point is related to productivity. The more voices you have with diverse skills, backgrounds, experiences, and talents, the more innovative your ideas will be for your business, helping it to grow in the long run.
6. High Revenue Growth
Finally, when these efforts are successfully managed, they eventually lead to higher revenues. According to a Boston Consulting Group study, companies with diverse members and management had a 19% increase in innovation revenue compared to less diverse companies.
Do you want to learn more about Spirit Day and how to create more inclusive and diverse workplace environments? In this section, we've gathered some of our best articles about diversity from Envato Tuts+. Check them out:
- Spirit Day 2020: Making Your Company More LGBTQ InclusiveDaniel Strongin15 Oct 2020
- How to Advocate for LGBTQ Rights in Your WorkplaceAndrew Blackman18 Oct 2018
- Spirit Day: 8 Inspiring LGBTQ+ People in the Tech IndustryNina Mujdzic17 Oct 2019
- How Your Company Can Combat Bullying (Spirit Day 2019)Andrew Blackman17 Oct 2019
- How to Ensure Diversity in Your Recruiting and Hiring PracticesAndrew Blackman24 Mar 2017
- 10 Steps to Hiring More Diverse Candidates (Recruiting for Diversity)Sarah Joy04 Feb 2022
Support Spirit Day and Let's Make a Change!
Leaders and those in positions of power in an organization have the opportunity to lead by example and make change happen; however, change doesn't happen overnight but through daily actions that contribute to the development of a more diverse company.
Discrimination, bullying, and harassment are actions that also happen in the workplace. We highly encourage you to do something and say something if you witness these unacceptable behaviors at work. We can all contribute to continuing to build safe spaces for all.