Canada may be viewed as one of the world's most inclusive societies, but a study released Wednesday suggests many gay employees in Canada still face barriers when it comes to career advancement.
The study by the research organization Catalyst is the first of its kind in Canada. Its main findings were based on survey responses from 232 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Canadian employees.
Less than half of respondents said their manager and colleagues are very comfortable with LGBT employees. Fewer than one in ten thought their manager and co-workers are very informed about issues facing gay workers.
The key barriers LGBT workers face at work are discriminatory behaviour, a lack of awareness on the issue, and exclusion from networking opportunities with others, Catalyst said.
"Workplace barriers to career advancement for LGBT employees in Canadian organizations persist," the report said. "Women and men reported exclusion from the 'old boys' club' and were acutely aware of the career limitations of exclusion from important networks."
About 12 per cent of gay women say they are completely in the closet at work, versus 5 per cent of men.
This year also marks 40 years since homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada. In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
The work environment is far more inclusive now than even a decade ago. But many workers remain fearful about the repercussions of coming out of the closet, said Darrell Schuurman, Toronto-based manager of market development for VIA Rail and board member of the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
"We all think that Canada is such a progressive place, and it really is relative to other countries, but are we there yet completely? No," he said. "In terms of feeling comfortable and open, there's still a lot more that can be done" within the workplace.
Hiding one's orientation can be "exhausting" and make focusing on work difficult. "So purely from an economic standpoint, it's impacting their contribution to the company. There's definitely value for a company to make sure they're inclusive."
Women appear to be more worried about how their sexual orientation affects their relationship with their boss. Seventy per cent of LGBT women said their manager evaluates their performance fairly, versus 80 per cent of men.
Today's study is being released in June in connection with Pride Month.
More than a third – or 36 per cent – of gay employees who experience discrimination wind up changing careers, according to Ryerson University's Diversity Institute in Management and Technology.
The Catalyst study is being released Wednesday in conjunction with a panel discussion on how to build inclusiveness workplaces. The findings were based on two surveys: the first among 232 workers who identified themselves as being LGBT and the second based on a broader career advancement survey of 17,908 Canadians.
Bank of Nova Scotia sponsored the study.