“Just show up.”
That was the simple advice panelist Marquita Thomas had for those attending the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s recent Big Queer Convo which discussed the realities faced by lesbian, bisexual, and queer women in the workplace.
“One of the problems is that we all wait for someone else to do the work,” observed Thomas, executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “We all need to personally take responsibility and like [the late U.S. Congressman] Elijah Cummings said: ‘Fight till you die.’”
The Big Queer Convo series is part of a year-long celebration of the Center’s 50th anniversary and one in a series of conversations devoted to documenting the impact of LGBT people in various industries over the last half-century. Held at the Center’s Renberg Theatre, the October 23 event Women’s Work: Perspectives on the Highs, Lows, and Where’d We Go? was co-sponsored by the Center and PwC. Other panelists included PwC’s Leslie O’Harrow and Laura Luna P, an electric utility regulatory project analyst and community activist.
“There’s still so much that needs to be done to achieve true parity in the workplace for women,” said moderator Terra Russell Slavin, who also serves as the Center’s director of policy and community building. “Many LBQ women face additional barriers at work because of invisibility and discrimination. Our voices must be part of this broader conversation.”
Slavin said lesbian women are far more likely than others to hear demeaning remarks about themselves in the workplace, and they are also far more likely to feel like they cannot talk about their personal lives at work.
Bisexual women report higher levels of bullying, unequal opportunities, and burnout. LBQ women of color are far more likely to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity from employers.
“Most people might be surprised to hear that a lot of us are not surprised,” she said. “If you are a woman who has an LGBT indicator on your résumé, you are 30 percent less likely to get a callback. Think about that. Three out of 10 people will literally not get their foot in the door because they put an LGBT indicator on their résumé.”
According to PwC’s study Out to Succeed: Realizing The Full Potential of Your LGBT+ Talent published earlier this year, many respondents felt being female and LBQ presented “a double glass ceiling.”
“It’s hard enough being a woman in the workplace and then you layer in being LBQ on top of that,” O’Harrow said. “You feel you don’t have role models whom you’ve seen break through those glass ceilings. The only way you think you can get there is to mute one of these [categories]—and that’s going to be the queer identification. The problem is magnified when you start adding other intersectionality like race into the mix.”
Luna pointed out that gay men often face a far different situation in the workplace than LBQ women.
“Patriarchy is still a thing even in the queer community,” she said. “Gay men benefit a lot from patriarchy. In my workplace, I’ve seen tropes around the gay best friend—especially when they direct report to cisgender straight women. Lesbians are sometimes seen as the angry dyke.”
While Luna is a well-known community activist and has been out professionally since the age of 19, she advised LGBT people to “listen to their intuition” when it comes to being out in the workplace.
“You are the only one who can make that decision,” she said. “If that high-paying job is not queer friendly, hopefully you can have an outside support network like the Center or other organizations. If you’re not out at work, I think that’s okay. Don’t think you’re alone.”
She pointed out that 46 percent of the respondents in the PwC study shared that they are not out at work for various reasons.
For Thomas, being out is the only option.
“I’m a professional gay now. Literally, every aspect of my life is LGBT,” she said. “I saw the barriers that existed for resources and felt like I personally needed to do something about it. I didn’t want anybody else to have the kind of experience I had where they just felt very isolated and didn’t really know where to go.”