Inclusion and diversity in the labour market: a call for LGBT labour statistics
Equal opportunities for employment and equal treatment in employment are a key part of decent work. For LGBT+ workers facing labour market discrimination around the world, this is far from a reality. But in order to know the extent and forms of this discrimination, we need labour statistics on LGBT+ people.
Diversity and inclusion in the labour market are core values with the potential to foster growth and development. Solid and sustainable labour markets leave no one behind and ensure decent work for all. And there is no decent work without equal opportunities for employment and equal treatment in employment. Sadly, many workers of the LGBT+ community around the world still face strong labour market discrimination. Even in countries with legislation protecting people from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, it still happens.
We know it happens because we have enough evidence. But this evidence is not always statistical – it is usually anecdotal. We need reliable and timely statistics on the labour market situation of LGBT+ people to know the extent of labour discrimination and the different forms it takes. We need statistics to know to what extent our labour market is indeed inclusive.
Statistical compilation to follow the legal evolution
Too many countries around the world still criminalize LGBT+ people and have discriminatory laws against them. However, encouragingly, many others made great progress in recent decades in ensuring human and labour rights of LGBT+ people. This progress involves both legislation against discrimination and legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Legal frameworks have evolved in this regard especially in Europe, North America and South America.
Nonetheless, even in countries where these legal advances happened, regular data compilation on the labour market situation of LGBT+ people is still rare. Unfortunately, all too often no data means no action. What is not quantified gets often overlooked. Thus, we run the risk of overlooking the difficulties LGBT+ people face in the labour market. And failing to address these difficulties implies missing out on the full productive potential of all workers.
Statistics as an antidote to invisibility
Statistics allow us to make the invisible visible. It is only once something is visible that we can even begin to address it. And this goes for the social, economic and labour market disparities LGBT+ people face (just like other minorities and marginalized groups).
Equality of opportunities and treatment is a fundamental principle at work. Discrimination is not only wrong, it is also bad for business. It has a high social and economic cost. Discrimination in education and in the labour market makes us miss out on the full extent of LGBT+ workers’ talent. This affects overall levels of productivity and human development. In this context, LGBT+ labour statistics can reveal underlying labour market issues and problems, a first step to addressing them.
The LGBT+ community is often seen as a homogeneous group, but nothing is further from the truth. LGBT+ people are extremely diverse, and so are their labour market situations and the hardships they face. Thus, compiling labour statistics on LGBT+ people can also help us understand these differences.
Difficulties in data collection
Needless to say, this is a very complex area of labour statistics. Of course, the possibilities for data compilation on the labour market situation of LGBT+ people and data quality are closely linked to social acceptance of LGBT+ people and the legal framework. In other words, the statistical visibility of LGBT+ people depends on their social visibility.
We focus here on countries which recognize same-sex relationships and gender identity and protect LGBT+ people from violence and discrimination. Still, even in those countries, a history of oppression prevents LGBT+ people from self-identifying as such openly in censuses and surveys. Moreover, survey respondents can misunderstand questions on sexual orientation and gender identity or simply prefer not to answer them.
Due to these difficulties (and many others), no population census has ever identified LGBT+ people. Also, surveys which did identify them generally gave very small numbers, which entails reliability issues.
When the context evolves, data collection should too
Sexual orientation and gender identity are sensitive topics, generally speaking. But sensitive topics are sensitive for a place and time. They are not sensitive everywhere and forever. How sensitive a topic is changes with the context. For LGBT+ issues, as legal frameworks and social acceptance evolve, so does the perception of sexual orientation and gender identity as sensitive topics. Just because no population census has ever compiled data on LGBT+ people, it does not mean it could not be done.
Indeed, for instance, the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics made a detailed study of possible topics to add in their next census (2021). These included gender identity and sexual orientation. When reviewing these topics, the ONS assessed user needs, question design, and impact on overall data quality, and came to informed conclusions. The ONS recommended to add voluntary questions on gender identity and sexual orientation to people aged 16 and above in the 2021 Census.
Rosina Gammarano, Economist in the Data Production and Analysis Unit of the ILO Department of Statistics.