September 10, 2007

The Benefits of ENDA: Social Science Data

Posted at 9:34 am (Pacific Time)

In a July 4 posting, I discussed empirical research on employment discrimination against sexual minorities. Last week, in testimony before a House subcommittee, UCLA economist Lee Badgett explained the findings of that body of research to members of Congress.

Dr. Badgett’s testimony supported the need for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (ENDA), which would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and explained how ENDA would be good for both employees and employers.

Dr. Badgett made three main points in her oral testimony. First, social science studies using a variety of methodologies have demonstrated that employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans occurs in workplaces across the country. She provided several examples:

“Two fairly recent national surveys of random samples of the LGB population give the clearest overall picture of sexual orientation-related discrimination. In 2000, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 18% of LGB people living in urban areas reported employment discrimination…. More recently, a 2005 survey by Dr. Gregory Herek found that 16% of lesbians and gay men and 5% of bisexual people reported having experienced employment discrimination. A quarter of LGB people disagreed with a statement asserting that most employers in their areas would hire openly LGB people if they are qualified for the job. Numerous local community surveys of nonrandom samples of LGBT people find that sexual orientation discrimination is also commonly reported in those areas.”

Second, this discrimination results in economic harm to sexual minorities, reducing their earnings by thousands of dollars.

“We now have more than a decade of research and twelve studies that compare earnings by sexual orientation in the United States. All twelve studies show a significant pay gap for gay men when compared to heterosexual men who have the same productive characteristics. Depending on the study, gay and bisexual men earn from 10% to 32% less than similarly qualified heterosexual men. Lesbians generally earn the same as or more than heterosexual women, but lesbians earn less than either heterosexual or gay men.”

Third, such discrimination hurts American businesses, and eliminating it will benefit employers in a variety of ways. For example, protection from discrimination is likely to result in healthier and more productive workers.

“Many studies have demonstrated that discrimination keeps LGBT workers from revealing their sexual orientation in the workplace. Although having experienced discrimination directly is a powerful reason for some to ‘stay in the closet,’ many studies show that LGBT people who fear discrimination are also less likely to reveal their sexual orientation to co-workers and supervisors. Employers have a stake in these individual decisions, since disclosure has potentially positive benefits to LGBT workers’ well-being and job performance. Studies find that people who have come out report lower levels of anxiety, less conflict between work and personal life, greater job satisfaction, more sharing of employers’ goals, higher levels of satisfaction with their co-workers, more self-esteem, and better physical health. On the flipside, when fear of discrimination causes LGBT employees to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity, employers experience negative costs along with LGBT people themselves. The time as well as social and psychological energy that is required to maintain a hidden identity would, from an employer’s perspective, be better used on the job.”

Dr. Badgett is Research Director at the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law and Director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her congressional testimony is available at the Williams Institute web site, as is the Institute’s recent report, Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination.

Copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.