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LGBT Study Stresses Importance of Creating Inclusive Workplace

Based on 2015 data, federal government employees who identified as LGBT were more likely than heterosexual employees to say they planned to leave their jobs within a year, according to new University of Texas at Dallas research.

Even LGBT federal employees who viewed their workplace as open and supportive were more likely to say they wanted to quit, according to the findings.

Published online in the American Review of Public Administration, the study highlights the importance of creating an inclusive workplace, said author Dr. Meghna Sabharwal, associate professor of public affairs and program head of public and nonprofit management in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. The research recently won the best paper award from the LGBT Advocacy Alliance Section of the American Society for Public Administration.

The findings demonstrate that diversity does not work without practices that ensure people feel welcome and that they are part of the process, Sabharwal said. She said researchers were surprised that LGBT employees who viewed their workplaces as open and supportive were more likely to say they wanted to quit. However, Sabharwal said she thinks that reflects a difference between talk and action in those workplaces.

It’s a lot more than just looking like we’ve done a good job by having underrepresented groups in certain positions. Your actions must mimic what you’ve been talking about; otherwise it becomes lip service.

Dr. Meghna Sabharwal, associate professor of public affairs in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences

“Without inclusion, diversity falls short,” Sabharwal said. “Diversity will not stick if you do not have an inclusive environment.”

Sabharwal and co-authors examined data from the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey of 421,748 federal employees. Three percent of participants identified as LGBT. The authors wanted to determine whether LGBT employees had higher rates of intent to turnover, which is an employee’s intent to find a new job within the next year. The researchers also wanted to know whether inclusive practices reduce turnover and whether LGBT employees who experience greater inclusion are less likely to want to leave their jobs.

LGBT employees were 2.6 times more likely than non-LGBT employees to say they wanted to leave their jobs, a significant difference especially in the federal government, which experiences low turnover. They were less likely to agree that their workplaces were fair, open, cooperative, supportive and empowering. The results were similar among all employees regardless of how many years of federal government work experience they had.

Examples of inclusive practices include gender-neutral restrooms, equal health care benefits and an atmosphere that allows employees to bring their identity to work, Sabharwal said.

“It’s a lot more than just looking like we’ve done a good job by having underrepresented groups in certain positions,” she said. “Your actions must mimic what you’ve been talking about; otherwise it becomes lip service.”

The study provided an opportunity for co-author Tiffany Nguyen BS’18 to participate in research as an undergraduate. Nguyen, who earned her degree in public and nonprofit management, helped conduct the literature review and presented the preliminary study as one of only a few undergraduates to attend the 2016 Southeastern Conference for Public Administration.

“Dr. Sabharwal has consistently been a wonderful supporter of her students and always makes time to talk in and out of the classroom,” Nguyen said. “I am grateful she gave me the opportunity to write and contribute to this project.”

Sabharwal and Nguyen also worked with co-authors from Long Island University and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at The City University of New York.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].