Competing Interests – Religion and LBGT Issues in the Workplace?

Earlier this month, I attended the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Orlando, Florida where I conducted a 150 minute intensive workshop entitled “HR Innovations: A Practicum in Managing Religious Diversity and LGBT Issues”. Our presentation was designed to explore the tensions and misunderstandings that commonly emerge between religious and LBGT employees in the workplace and to introduce participants to some of the ways to recognize and resolve these conflicts.

I can’t believe we covered so much in such a short amount of time! It was definitely a unique and exciting experience and the participants raised lots of interesting issues during the presentation.

I was particularly fascinated by one exercise. When asked if they always treated people of other religious faiths with respect about 40% of the room agreed but not a single participant felt that they were always treated respectfully by people of other faiths. The issue of respectfulness, especially respectfulness in the workplace, is complex for both religious and LGBT individuals because tensions are likely to emerge when one (or both) parties feel as though a core identity is being threatened.

A new study published by the Human Right Campaign, entitled “Degrees of Equality: A National Study Examining Workplace Climate for LGBT Employees”, indicates that “significant numbers of LGBT employees continue to experience negative workplace climate[s]”. They found that a majority of the survey’s LGBT respondents continue to hide their sexual identities at work even in light of businesses’ sustained efforts in implementing policies aimed at creating a safe workspace for LGBT employees.

The LGBT community is not alone in feeling threatened. In our August blog posting, Rachel noticed the growing number of cases in which Christian employees maintained that they were subject to religious discrimination in the workplace.

Here at Tanenbaum, we believe that religious identity and sexual orientation are both salient identities and, as a result, dimensions of diversity in the workplace.  Therefore, our goal is to help employers  manage these competing interests within the framework of the core values of the company and help foster tolerance, productivity and understanding in the workplace.