The results of a survey of rainbow public servants suggest a significant proportion still don’t feel comfortable being out in their workplaces.
More than 30% of lesbian, gay and bisexual public service workers who responded to the State Service Commission’s We Count Survey last year reported being uncomfortable being open or out at work.
While only a small number of gender diverse/transgender and intersex workers responded to the survey, more than half of those that did also felt uncomfortable being out at work.
While more than 1000 workers responded to the survey, the SSC says the findings can’t be applied to the general rainbow population as it was a self-selected sample.
However, Out&psa Convenor Caleb Gordon says the results are not surprising.
“It puts some data behind what a lot of us know to be true. We have members coming to us with clearcut cases of homophobia from colleagues. Bullying can also extend outside the workplace and onto social media.”
The SSC We Count survey follows a survey for the PSA in 2013 which found 2.9% of respondents had been discriminated against due to sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, about a third of the 377 complaints the Human Rights Commission received about alleged discrimination due to sexual orientation between 2008 and 2019 were in the area of employment.
Caleb says those figures are likely to just be the tip of the iceberg.
“People often just leave. They don’t report their experiences because if they do they have to out themselves.”
Respondents to the We Count survey also spoke of the risk to their career aspirations if they were open about who they are and of self-limiting their aspirations in order to ‘not come out’.
A quarter of all respondents said none of their colleagues gendered them correctly by using correct names and pronouns.
The SSC says the findings show we have come some way, but more needs to be done to ensure everyone is comfortable.
It’s identified the need to deal with judgemental behaviour, ensure no one feels vulnerable or intimidated, and improve recruitment practices.
The SSC says chief executives will increasingly be accountable for diversity and inclusion. It’s also working on inclusive leadership, addressing bias, creating tools for using inclusive language and promoting employee-led networks.
Caleb says the SSC is on the right track but sometimes it feels like it’s not a priority.
“Agencies need to listen to staff members, challenge inappropriate behaviours and make people feel like their comfort is important to them.
“There needs to be a cultural shift so people feel they can bring their whole selves to work.
Caleb says small signs are important such as establishing visible and accessible rainbow networks in workplaces, and providing unisex toilets.
Out@psa is also working to become more visible so members know they can turn to it if they have issues.
The network is working to educate people outside the rainbow community about how they can they can help build a more diverse culture.
Caleb urges everyone to stand up for their rainbow colleagues by calling out harmful comments and behaviours.
For more information or support on these issues contact email@example.com
ONE MEMBER’S STORY
An out@psa member says discrimination is just under the surface in her workplace.
The lesbian public service worker recalls a colleague commenting that an intranet story about Pride events wasn’t an appropriate use of their website.
“I was really surprised it came from that person. It made me want to be invisible.”
The woman says she fears her career prospects could be harmed if she was completely open about her sexuality.
“I’m very careful about how out I am and who I am out to. We are not welcoming for anyone who is not white and straight.
“If you are a woman you need to be a heterosexual woman, you need to play the game.”
The member says managers have attended unconscious bias training and a rainbow network has been set up in her organisation but she has yet to see real change on the ground.
She says the work of out@psa is valuable for rainbow members.
PSA members and local communities joined forces in February to protest restructuring that threatened hundreds of jobs and quality client care.
While the restructuring by HealthCare NZ is now set to go ahead the protests have thrown a spotlight on issues besetting the home care and support sector.
Union organisers from the Pacific have spoken about the challenges some face while trying to improve conditions for workers in their countries.