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Why should we care in HR? The compelling case for change

This article is part of the Reflecting on Pride Month, HRNZ News Special Edition, written by  Amy Clarke (she/her) – HRNZ’s Manager, Professional Standards and Development. If you have a story to share or feedback we’d love to hear from you. Please email [email protected].

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Valuing diversity and inclusion enhances a company’s reputation as a good employer, attracts a larger pool of qualified candidates, reduces the risk of discrimination and harassment, and drives innovation’

Most of us will have heard the argument for why embracing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace is important – very simply put, it’s better for the bottom line, and it often falls to HR to make the changes to try and achieve this.

Feeling comfortable and safe at work = greater levels of productivity. What does this mean though, and what else does it do besides make us more productive and our organisations more efficient?

Further to this, what happens when we’re not being inclusive? What is being experienced in our workplaces when we aren’t taking the time to listen or understand, what are the experiences of our rainbow staff, and where exactly does HR fit into this?

In a nutshell, when we’re not inclusive and aren’t actively working for positive change, the rainbow community bears the brunt of continued marginalisation and disadvantage.

People with a diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, expression or sex characteristics experience higher levels of discrimination and bullying in the workplace (and outside of it). A third (34.1 percent) of gay/lesbian adults (aged 18 and over) and 39.3 percent of bisexual adults were discriminated against in the last year, compared with 16.3 percent of adults identifying as straight or heterosexual. (Stats NZ)

The most common complaint received by the Human Rights Commission on the ground of sexual orientation is related to discrimination in employment.

The high risk of experiencing discrimination leads many people to conceal their diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, or sex characteristics in the workplace and when applying for jobs.

They often conceal their identities or partners for fear of discrimination if these details are disclosed to others in their work environments. Unsurprisingly, research shows that there is a direct correlation between this secrecy and workers’ stress, anxiety, and loss of productivity

Supporting our Transgender Staff
While people with diverse sexual orientations experience issues in the workplace, those with diverse gender identities often experience unique and greater barriers. Trans people can be especially vulnerable to pre-employment discrimination if any required documentation, including references, transcripts, or work history discloses their transgender status.

Employees who are transgender and/or are currently transitioning face the biggest issues in the workplace, with indications that they are subject to the most severe forms of workplace discrimination. This can include the inability to obtain identity documents, the reluctance of employers to accept their new sex/gender, and increased vulnerability to bullying by their colleagues.

Due to high rates of discrimination, many trans people can be frozen out of formal economies and take on precarious or self-directed work in the informal labour market.

What the stats tell us:

  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has produced two recent papers which describe pre-employment and employment discrimination. They confirm with survey-based and experimental evidence that people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face barriers in the labour market.
  • This includes being less likely to get an interview than their heterosexual counterparts; and experiencing gaps in employment status, remuneration, and access to career progression.
  • The unemployment rate of trans and non-binary participants in Counting Ourselves was more than twice the general population: 11% versus 5%.
  • Data from Counting Ourselves showed the annual median income for trans and non-binary people is $15,001 - $20,000, compared with a median income of $35,001 – $40,000 for the general population
  • 74% of participants in Counting Ourselves reported concealing their trans or non-binary status in the workplace due to fear of discrimination.