Foundation Study: Many LGBTQ Employees Face Discrimination Challenges

One in 10 LGBTQ employees at philanthropic foundations say they’ve left “not very accepting” workplaces, and nearly six in 10 aren’t “out” to their coworkers, according to a new Funders for LGBTQ Issues report. The study is the first comprehensive report on the issue in the foundation space.

Diversity is a value embraced by many philanthropic organizations, but a new study raises questions about whether foundations are truly equitable and inclusive when it comes to LGBTQ staffers.

The Philanthropic Closet, a new report from Funders for LGBTQ Issues, documents the challenges that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer employees face in jobs at foundations. The study found that lower-level staff members are less likely to be “out” than those in a senior staff or board role—notable because “out” workers tend to have stronger levels of job satisfaction, commitment, and productivity. The study found that 42.3 percent of LGBTQ foundation employees were fully out to their employer.

“The more senior an LGBTQ person in philanthropy, the more likely they are to be fully ‘out’ in the workplace,” the report states.

LGBTQ people make up a relatively small minority of employees at many foundations (16.2 percent among all organizations surveyed, 22.8 percent among those with a social justice or LGBTQ focus). And about 10 percent of LGBTQ workers say they’ve left a workplace that they found “not very accepting.” (The issue is particularly challenging for transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming employees, who made up just 2 percent of workers surveyed.)

Those statistics are set against a legal backdrop in which 27 states do not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ workers. Of the 947 individuals surveyed, 48 percent live in states without anti-discrimination protections.

Unwelcoming workplaces led nearly a third of employees (31 percent) to feel depressed at work and a quarter to be distracted from their roles. Such a culture is also linked to disengagement: A quarter of LGBTQ employees in such situations avoid certain coworkers, while a fifth avoid work events.

“Loss of productivity and lower employee engagement is bad for any employer,” the study notes.

In-depth research on the experience of LGBTQ employees at foundations has been stymied by data-collection challenges, including privacy concerns raised by foundation boards. The Philanthropic Closet, working with Southern Methodist University’s SMU DataArts program, worked around this problem by making the survey anonymous.

“An important step toward inclusiveness is collecting data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of the staff and trustees of foundations,” the organization stated. “Up until now, we have had no reliable data on the level of representation of LGBTQ people in the philanthropic sector, nor on the degree to which LGBTQ people feel included and welcome in the workplace.”

According to data from the Human Rights Campaign, 46 percent of LGBTQ employees are said to still be in the closet in all industries.

(Gajus/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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