Outer at the office? Mixed study results on LGBT

Two current studies describe the changed situation in the field of LGBT* at the workplace. While a more open approach to diverse orientations and identities is positive, other analyses point to persistent reservations and surprising disadvantages. The existing LGBT* niche strategies seem to need to be reviewed.

The number of lesbian and gay workers who openly deal with their sexual orientation or identity in the workplace has more than doubled in the past ten years. Nearly one third (28.9 percent) of those questioned openly discuss this topic with all (!) colleagues. In 2007 this number was only 12.7 percent. However, a slightly larger group (30.5 percent) does not talk to anyone or only a few people in the workplace about key aspects of life such as partnership. This was still the case for 51.9 percent of the interviewed in 2007 and is considered an everyday topic in the majority group of heterosexual employees. The results come from a new edition of the German 2007 “Out at the Office” survey, in which 2,884 lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* employees took part from February to May 2017.

Diversity management as a positive influencing factor

In the same vein than ten years ago, the study analysed the relationships between the openness of LGBT* employees in dealing with their sexual orientation or identity with the perceived corporate culture and the existence of actively shaping diversity management on the one hand and positive engagement effects on the other. All these connections could be confirmed – statistically similar to 10 years ago – and underpin the business case for LGBT* diversity. Detailed results show (for all data including SMEs) a clearer connection between diversity management and positively perceived corporate culture. The direct relationship between corporate culture and an open approach to LGBT* identities has become somewhat weaker and the direct relationship between diversity management and an open approach is the weakest of all measured – although statistically striking and confirmed.

Update: For larger companies (500+ employees), which are most likely to pursue a formalised diversity management, the effects on corporate culture and above all on an open approach to sexual identity are even more pronounced than for smaller companies.

The positive picture also reflects the increased thematic openness of LGBT* employees towards managers and their very frequent positive reactions to the topic.

Experience of discrimination remains high

However, both the current study “Out at the Office” and a DIW study by Krohn et. al. provide results that raise fundamental questions: “Out at the Office” shows that 76.3 percent of LGBT* people surveyed still say that they have already experienced discrimination in the workplace. The current survey is more differentiated and thus offers specific findings:

  • 91% of bisexual respondents report bi-specific experiences of discrimination (e.g. being perceived as heterosexual or homosexual and being sexualised)
  • Among the Trans* respondents, 41% report trans*-specific experiences of discrimination (e.g. refusal to go to the appropriate toilet or not to have signs and signatures adapted to the new name).
  • The most pronounced perception of poorer treatment for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals is the factor of appreciation (12 – 29.7%) followed by vacation, promotion or pressure to perform (depending on subgroups).
  • The concrete experiences of discrimination, like the aspect of ‘appreciation’, clearly point to widespread weaknesses in corporate cultures: The most common experiences are (for LSB) whispering/rumours/lying and imitation/ragging (for gays and lesbians)
  • Salary disadvantage experienced by almost 4% of lesbian and gay workers, 0% of bisexual and just under 12% of Trans* employees

Lower earnings – higher disposable household income

An analysis based on data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) at DIW Berlin already showed in the summer of 2017 that LGB employees are at a salary disadvantage.

What is striking is the significantly higher hourly wage of heterosexual men (average hourly wage of 18.14 euros) compared to heterosexual women (14.40 euros), homosexual women (16.44 euros) and homosexual men (16 euros). These differences also remain in the case of statistical consideration of differences in qualifications, position in profession, work experience, working time models and industries. The difference for men even rises to 2.64 euros if the higher education of homo- and bisexual respondents is taken into account (highly significant result). Hourly wages for homosexual women differ in statistically significant ways neither from the hourly wages of homosexual men nor heterosexual women.

The results only seem to contradict the popular assumption of a well-earning and hedonistic group. Due to the usually different life situations of LGB people, the analysis shows – despite the salary disadvantages – higher disposable household incomes (although not statistically significant).

To what extent the presence of children is (partly) responsible for the salary differences was not discussed in this study, although another study made reference to this: http://en.diversitymine.eu/men-without-children-earn-less-than-fathers-pay-stats-show/

There are no earlier comparative values for these comparatively new questions. However, this is the case for other relevant aspects.

LGTB* Corporate Networks and Commitment

A higher proportion of out-at-the-office respondents than in 2007 said their company had LGBT* networks, unless the company is too small for this tool. While the prevalence increased only slightly, the recognition, involvement and support in the eyes of LGBT* employees has increased significantly.

This continues in part in the externally communicated D&I understanding of German corporations. 14 of them are among the (combined) 75 companies in the Stoxx® Europe 50 and EuroStoxx® 50 indices. While only 21% of the 14 German annual reports explicitly mention LGBT* (compared to 30% of all 75), 7 of the 11 German CSR reports (63% compared to 57% of all 61) do so. The German focus on CSR and further details are described here: http://de.diversitymine.eu/der-europavergleich-zum-deutschen-diversity-tag-2017/

Future prospects for LGBT* Diversity

The current study findings show that the LGBT* Diversity Work of recent years has been successful as well as those areas in which new approaches and concepts should be considered. The results show that there is still a clear need for action in the corporate cultures and that this also makes sense from an economic point of view. This contrasts with a pronounced focus of diversity strategies on LGBT* employee networks and platforms (which is also reflected in the structure of out-at-the-office respondents, 16.5% of whom are ‘organised’ in structures). Although ally or mentor-up concepts work in the direction of corporate and management culture, they – like the networks themselves – do not have the leverage that other diversity instruments (usually for the topic of gender) have.

As in other diversity fields, there are indications for LGBT* that future approaches need to work more directly on, for and with mainstream/majority groups. This article contains a current overview with corresponding analyses: http://de.diversitymine.eu/analysis-10-di-pioneers-outline-the-future-of-di/



Frohn, D., Meinhold, F. & Schmidt, C. (2017). „Out im Office?!“ Sexuelle Identität und Geschlechtsidentität, (Anti-)Diskriminierung und Diversity am Arbeitsplatz

Kroh, M., Kühne, S., Kipp, C. & Richter, D. (2017). Einkommen, soziale Netzwerke, Lebenszufriedenheit: Lesben, Schwule und Bisexuelle in Deutschland