Denmark: Greater acceptance of LGBT colleagues in female-dominated workplaces

It is likely to be more difficult to be an LGBT person in a male-dominated Danish workplace than a female-dominated one, according to a recent union-backed survey. The survey reveals significant differences between men’s and women’s experiences regarding the acceptance of LGBT people in Danish workplaces. It also finds that 34% of respondents have heard LGBT people spoken of with contempt at their workplace.

Background

In 1987, Denmark became the first country to legalise registered partnerships between two people of the same sex (in Danish). In 1996, the Danish parliament passed laws banning indirect and direct discrimination on the labour market (in Danish), based on sexual orientation. The laws also covered discrimination based on gender, religion, social background, race, faith and political affiliation. In 2005, age and handicap were also added to the list. In 2015, Denmark was ranked number 8 out of 49 in a list of the European countries most friendly towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in terms of legislation and policies implying that it was no longer a front-runner in this area of legislation. 

The area of legislation is one matter; the cultural environment that LGBT people actually experience on a day-to-day basis is another. To learn more about how LGBT workers are seen and accepted, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) undertook a survey to examine the recognition of LGBT people in Danish workplaces (in Danish, 161 KB PDF) and their status.

About the study

The LO study sample included its own members, those of other unions and non-members, with responses from 1,249 people providing the results. (The overall figures have a statistical uncertainty of between 1% and 2%.) The sample consists of both LGBT and non-LGBT people. The study was published on 3 August 2015.

Key findings

Awareness of LGBT colleagues in the workplace

LO asked respondents if they knew of colleagues who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Around 25% of respondents knew of at least one colleague who was LGBT. However, almost 41% of the respondents stated they did not know if they had any colleagues who were LGBT. When the results are analysed by gender, the numbers show that fewer men than women know if they have colleagues who are LGBT. Almost half of the men surveyed (48%) answered 'Do not know’, compared with 33% of women.

Figure 1: Do you have one or more LGBT colleagues?

 

These results are noteworthy. A 2009 study by the Centre for Alternative Analysis (CASA) estimated that between 3.5% and 6.2 % of all Danes are LGBT (in Danish, 904 KB PDF). However, this proportion is not reflected in the LO survey. This could imply that it is difficult to be open about being LGBT in Danish workplaces. A 2012 study finds a similar dynamic for bisexual and transgender people in Denmark. Conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), it found that in the previous five years only 15% of bisexual women and 11% of bisexual men had been open about their sexuality at their workplaces and only 13% of transgender people. These figures indicate that it is particularly difficult for people who are bisexual or transgender to open about their sexuality or gender identity at work.

Safety in expressing oneself in the workplace

Most respondents in the survey felt that it was safe for LGBT colleagues to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity in Danish workplaces, 66% believing that it was safe 'to a great extent' or 'to some extent'. A tiny minority (3%) felt that it was not at all safe to be open about oneself in this respect. 

The results also indicate that women view Danish workplaces as being safer in this regard than do men. About 73% of the women in the study feel that LGBT people can be open about their sexuality or gender identity 'to a great extent' or 'to some extent'. For men, the equivalent figure is 68%. Only 8% of women felt that it was safe 'to a lesser extent', while 17% of male respondents felt this. The difference also suggests that it might be more difficult for someone to be open about being LGBT in a male-dominated workplace.   

Figure 2: To what extent do you think that LGBT people can safely be open about their sexuality or gender identity at your workplace?

Contemptuous language used of LGBT people

The respondents were also asked whether they had heard LGBT people spoken about with contempt in their workplace. Most had not, 56% saying they had not heard such language used. Some 17% had heard it only rarely, while 4% had heard it often.

Again, when the results are analysed by gender, significant differences appear between the answers of men and women. Men are more likely to hear LGBT people spoken about contemptuously than women, 43% of men in the survey saying they had heard contemptuous language used at least sometimes, as against 24% of women. These results also appear to support the trends that emerge from the previous answers, in that men have a different experience of the acceptance of LGBT people in their workplace than women, and that male-dominated workplaces are likely to be more difficult environments for LGBT people to work in.

Figure 3: Have you heard LGBT people spoken of with contempt in your former or present workplace?

Opportunities to participate in workplace community

The study also investigates the extent to which respondents think that LGBT people can participate in the workplace community. Overall, respondents felt that LGBT people had the same opportunities as the rest of their colleagues, with 52% of the respondents answering ‘to a great extent’ or ‘to some extent’. Only 9% said that LGBT people had fewer opportunities, or none. 

Gender differences were also evident in responses to this part of the survey. Women were more likely than men to believe that LGBT people had the same opportunities for participation in the community, 58% of women feeling this, as against 47% of men. And conversely, some 12% of men surveyed thought that LGBT people had fewer opportunities, or none, compared with 5% of women. 

Figure 4: To what extent is it your experience that LGBT colleagues have the same opportunities to be a part of the workplace community?

Conclusions

The results of the study indicate that male-dominated Danish workplaces face greater challenges in accepting LGBT workers than female-dominated workplaces. The women surveyed had a more positive outlook on the status and recognition of LGBT people in the Danish labour market.

Overall, however, the results demonstrate that LGBT people generally have good social conditions in Danish workplaces and that their co-workers are generally accepting and inclusive. Still, this picture of the prevailing social conditions could be skewed: the sample surveyed includes both LGBT people and those who are not; it is possible that people who are not LGBT do not experience the social conditions in the same way as their LGBT colleagues. 

Reactions from social partners

When the study was published, LO published their own reaction to the study on their website. The confederation’s then Vice-President President Lizette Risgaard (currently LO's President) said it was important to LO that employees could be themselves at their workplace (in Danish), and that it was a problem that so many of the survey’s respondents reported hearing LGBT people spoken of with contempt.

The bigger social partners, such as the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) and the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA), have not made any statements about this specific study. But in August 2015, to coincide with Copenhagen Pride, DI said that LGBT people should never feel limited at their workplaces (in Danish). DI believes that companies want open and inclusive workplaces that enable everybody to be themselves.

Rikke Voergård-Olesen, Spokesperson for Labour Market Politics for LGBT Danmark, the National Association of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender people, stated that this issue of acceptance is a problem at managerial level (in Danish), and that managers have a responsibility to ensure a good working environment. She added that she was not surprised by the results of the study and there might be different expectations of men and women in Danish workplaces. She also complimented LO for bringing the issue to light in their survey.

The chairpersons of the four big trade unions organised under LO (3F, Dansk Metal, HK and FOA) wrote to the newspaper Politiken in August 2015 suggesting solutions to the challenges highlighted by the study (in Danish). They stated their opinion that contemptuous language at the workplace stems mostly from prejudice, and sometimes there is a fine line between what is felt to be humorous and what is in fact hurtful.

 

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