About the the systematic literature review
In 2020, the Swedish government instructed the Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise to map the organisational and social work environment of LGBTQ people. The agency was specifically instructed to highlight the work environment of trans people. The agency conducted a systematic systematic literature review and a qualitative original study in response to the government commission.
Following a government decision in 2020 (A2020/01002/MRB), the Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise was commissioned to map and summarize existing research conducted on the organizational and social work environment for LGBTQ people. In response to this, the agency initiated a systematic literature review project focusing on factors that promote or hinder LGBTQ people within the organizational and social work environment. The systematic literature review was based on the following questions:
- What main work environment risks for LGBTQ people have been identified?
- What main health factors affecting LGBTQ people have been identified in the work environment?
- What are the differences between homosexual, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in their different work environments? Are there common points of contact? Are there important differences?
- What characterizes an inclusive workplace; that is, a work environment that LGBTQ people themselves experience as good?
Literature searches were carried out in 15 databases to find as much as possible of the relevant research carried out in the field in 2010–2021. Almost 300 studies were analysed to identify organizational and social work environment risks as well as health factors at the individual, group, and organizational level. Differences and similarities in the work environment situation for homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people were also noted.
It was not possible to include queer people in the comparative analysis as few studies on this group were found.
Work environment risks, health factors and the importance of increased efforts to create an inclusive workplace
The results from the systematic literature review indicate that homosexual individuals do not always have a worse work environment than their heterosexual counterparts, but they do face specific risk factors in the work environment. Although positive work environment factors are often also present, many LGBTQ people experience:
- microaggressions (i.e., subtle and sometimes unconscious aggressive actions in the form of, for example, comments, jokes or questions)
- other negative work environment factors.
The results further indicate that a heteronormative climate has a negative impact on the working environment of LGBTQ people. In a heteronormative climate, heterosexuality is taken for granted, which contributes to a perception that other sexual orientations, such as homosexuality and bisexuality, are deviant. Heteronormativity also includes the expectation that women and men should behave in a certain way, and the expectation of a certain chronological life course. In line with this, the systematic literature review points out that a heteronormative work climate constitutes a risk factor for LGBTQ people in the work environment, by making LGBTQ issues invisible and creating uncertainty among LGBTQ employees about others’ perceptions of LGBTQ people. This can contribute to LGBTQ people being less open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, out of fear of how others will react.
This lack of openness can in turn contribute to lower levels of:
- erceived fellowship with colleagues
- job satisfaction
- work commitment
The systematic literature review further indicates that a lack of visible support or non-action by managers leaves room for the occurrence of microaggressions, discrimination and harassment. The presence of heterosexism (i.e., the assumption that people are heterosexual by default and that homosexuality is unnatural and exceptional), discrimination and harassment are associated to lower levels of job satisfaction and work ability, and higher levels of stress and mental illness.
This type of environment can also affect the individual’s choices in several ways, namely the choices around:
- vocational orientation
- to be open about their sexual orientation or gender expression
- intent to quit their jobs.
Transgender people and bisexuals seem to be more exposed to discrimination, harassment and/or bullying compared to homosexual and heterosexual cisgender individuals. For transgender people, discrimination and harassment seem to be due to the presence of transphobia. In a supplementary study which was carried out as part of the government assignment to map transgender people’s organizational and social work environment, a majority of the 105 transgender people who participated in the study said they had been exposed to microaggressions. Some described experiences of harassment, even death threats, or great fear of what the consequences might be if they were open about their transgender experiences. In parallel with these negative experiences, many of the people who participated in the supplementary study also had positive work environment experiences; for example, experiences of high support from managers and colleagues. However, it was not clear from the results in the systematic literature review why bisexual people are exposed to discrimination and harassment to a greater degree than their homosexual counterparts.
The results from the systematic literature review indicate that various forms of organizational support are an important health factor in the work environment of LGBTQ people. This means that an organizational climate that is perceived as supportive towards LGBTQ people is also related to experiences of a good work environment, job satisfaction and health, including the willingness to be open about one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
A supportive work climate includes:
- organizational policies
- activities that, for example, aim to combat discrimination
- a general climate that is perceived as supportive and accepting of LGBTQ people.
According to the results in the systematic literature review it is important that managers and colleagues show active support by standing up against discriminatory abuse and in various ways showing that they stand up for LGBTQ issues. The results further point to the importance of the work organization actively working to ensure that policies are complied with.
The authors of the systematic literature review
- Andrea Eriksson, Associate Professor, the Division of Ergonomics, the School of Engineering Sciences in Chemistry, Biotechnology and Health, KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
- Sara Andersson, Doctor, the Department of Sociology and Work Science at the University of Gothenburg.
- Sofia Björk, Senior Lecturer, the Department of Sociology and Work Science at the University of Gothenburg.
- Carin Hellström, Doctoral Student, the Division of Ergonomics, the School of Engineering Sciences in Chemistry, Biotechnology and Health, KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
The reference group consists of representatives from other government bodies and key organisations. The purpose of the reference group is to support, make suggestions and give comments during the systematic literature review production process, through dialogue and collaboration.
For this project, the reference group consisted of:
- Jonah Akleye, the Public Health Agency of Sweden.
- Olle Andersson Brynja and Magdalena Sievers, the Equality Ombudsman.
- Ulrich Stoetzer, the Swedish Work Environment Authority.
- Edward Summanen, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights (RFSL).