New research has found that LGBTQ+ workers in the UK face a pay gap nearly twice as large as the country's gender pay gap.
Conducted by LinkedIn in partnership with UK Black Pride, a YouGov survey of 4,000 UK workers who identified as straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or other found that LGBTQ+ people earn £6,703 less on average than their straight counterparts. The shortfall equates to a 16% pay gap, nearly double the UK's gender pay gap, which currently stands at 8.6% according to the Office for National Statistics.
For queer women like 28-year-old Laura, who works for an arts organisation in Manchester, it stands to reason that pay disparity is an even greater issue. "I’ve been in my current role for nearly three years and only recently had my first pay rise," Laura explains. "I only asked for a raise when I found out that a male colleague who started after me in essentially the exact same role was earning over £1k more than me. We have very similar experience and even did the same degree at universities with similar reputations."
It never occurred to Laura that this pay gap could be attributed to her sexuality as well as her gender, although her male colleague is straight as far as she is aware. "I’ve never made a big deal out of my sexuality at work," she explains, "but I am out and sometimes as the only gay person in the office it can feel as if you are treated differently, especially when people are talking about dating and relationships. All my colleagues are respectful but sometimes I get the impression that they find it awkward to talk to me about things like that. If I had to explain the pay gap thing, I guess feeling like a bit of an outsider might impact how I relate to my colleagues sometimes, and I’m sure that’s the case for other LGBT people."
Pay disparity isn’t the only issue facing LGBTQ+ workers in the UK. The survey also found that a quarter of LGBTQ+ respondents aren’t out at work; a separate study conducted by the Trades Union Congress in 2017 found this figure to be even higher, with only 51% of LGBTQ+ workers out to everyone in their workplace.
In a post on the network, LinkedIn Country Manager Joshua Graff, who commissioned the survey, outlined the impact that being closeted at work can have on LGBTQ+ workers, stating that it creates "a daily level of angst similar to having your finals tomorrow morning. You constantly worry about what other people might think. You worry about every word you say, and watch your every move. It’s very hard to be your authentic self and definitely limits your professional success and productivity."
Fears surrounding coming out at work are understandable given some of the other findings, with 35% of respondents having overheard or experienced homophobic comments in their workplace, 21% having experienced some form of verbal abuse themselves and the majority of LGBTQ+ respondents, 61%, saying they have been made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace because of their sexuality.
My manager once asked whether I had ever slept with a man. I had never felt more physically uncomfortable or powerless.
For Romy*, a 23-year-old queer woman, this last statistic in particular is unsurprising. In her time working for a youth unemployment charity in Edinburgh, she has had numerous experiences that have made her uncomfortable. She has overheard colleagues making jokes about cottaging and 'rent boys', and another colleague joking that a 'butch' young woman they were working with was predatory. Her manager once asked whether she has ever slept with a man. "I had never felt more physically uncomfortable or powerless," she says of the second incident.
Such experiences are surely to blame for the reluctance of many LGBTQ+ people to out themselves at work, with 28% of closeted workers citing fear of being judged by their colleagues as their reason for not coming out, and 14% feeling that their chances of promotion would be hindered if they did.
This was definitely the case for Romy, who found it difficult to be open about her sexuality, saying that "for straight people who aren’t really surrounded by queerness normally at all, I 'look' straight, and so they would never regard me as someone who would be offended by any of it."
For transgender employees, work can be a particularly hostile environment, with 68% of the trans people surveyed by LinkedIn and Black Pride stating that they wanted a more supportive workplace. This is certainly the case for 21-year-old Lowie, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. "In my current job they don’t use my pronouns ever," they say. "I’m aware it isn’t shutting me out of work but it’s every single job and it’s exhausting."
The survey found that 35% of LGBTQ+ respondents have heard or experienced comments that were homophobic, with 21% experiencing some form of verbal abuse themselves. This is in stark contrast to the 8% of straight respondents saying they’ve witnessed an LGBTQ+ colleague discriminated against or treated differently.
The results of this major survey are conclusive; LGBTQ+ employees in the UK face widespread discrimination, hostility and ignorance in various forms, as well as a significant pay gap.
*Name changed to protect identity