20 March 2018

When young people who are homosexual, bisexual, transsexual or queer choose a study programme or a profession, their decision isn’t only based on whether they think they will enjoy it. Another factor is: will they be accepted in their future career. This is according to a report by LiU researcher Sara Ahlstedt.

Many young LGBT people are unsure whether they should be open with their sexual orientation or gender identity at work. Photo credit: iStock“I’m afraid of starting to work and of finding a workplace, and whether I’ll be accepted.”These words, from a young Finnish LGBTQ person, show the problems that face this group of young people when choosing a profession.

Young LGBTQ people have poorer mental health than others their age. Mental health problems are increasing in young people in Sweden, and this affects their ability to enter the labour market. Against this background, in 2015 the Swedish government decided that more knowledge of young LGBTQ people’s health in relation to the workplace is required.

“The picture that emerges is that many young LGBTQ people are happy at work. However, many of them are unsure whether they should be open with their sexual orientation or gender identity there, and many have been subject to harassment and discrimination,” says Sara Ahlstedt, researcher at Linköping University and author of the report Bredda normen: En kunskapssammanställning om unga hbtq-personers etablering på arbetsmarknaden (Extend the norm: A compilation of knowledge about young LGBTQ people’s establishment on the labour market).

Due to the absence of Swedish research into how young LGTBQ people choose a profession, get established on the labour market and perceive their workplaces, Sara Ahlstedt has made use of research from other western countries: Finland, Norway, the UK, Canada, the US and Australia.

“What will happen if I choose this profession? What consequences will it have?”

For many LGTBQ people, entering the working world comes simultaneous with the insight that they don’t belong to the norm. Therefore these major life events can affect each other, and sometimes the mental focus on sexual orientation and gender identity takes precedence over the choice of study programme or profession.

“But it can also be the other way around. The person suppresses their thoughts about their sexual orientation or gender identity, to have the energy to choose a career,” says Sara Ahlstedt.Sara Ahlstedt, researcher at LiUSara Ahlstedt has written a report
on LGBT youth and work places.
Photo credit: LiU

Those who are able to focus on both the choice of profession and on grasping that they don’t belong to the norm are often the ones who have a lot of support from their surroundings.

In some cases, sexual orientation and/or gender identity are a factor in choice of profession. Sara Ahlstedt’s report cites an American study where 64 per cent of the young LGTBQ people state that their sexual orientation and/or gender identity affected their choice of studies or profession. A Finnish study that shows similar results: 66 per cent state that their LGTBQ identity affected their choices.

Some young LGTBQ people avoid certain professions, because they don’t believe that their sexual orientation and/or gender identity will fit in, or that they will be questioned. It’s common that they avoid professions that involve contact with children, as they fear being accused of paedophilia.

When choosing a profession, young LGTBQ people don’t think primarily about the profession. They don’t ask Can I do this?. They ask What happens if I do this? or What consequences will this have?.

Heterosexual norms at the workplace

Once they are at the workplace, many LGTBQ people face a situation where their surroundings assume they are heterosexual and that the workplace is based on heterosexual norms.FaceThe majority of the LGBT youth feel happy at work.
At the same time they struggle with the coming out process. P
hoto credit: iStock

“These young people say that negotiating with themselves whether to be visible or invisible in various situations is difficult, especially as it is the first time they are at a workplace, and they’re learning how a workplace functions,” says Sara Ahlstedt.

She says that discrimination isn’t only about being a target oneself, but also about having to hear negative comments, for instance in the form of ‘jokes’. The research she has surveyed shows that in many cases, when young LGTBQ people find themselves in these situations, they feel forced to laugh along with the others, although inside they feel exposed and that the situation is uncomfortable. And it is even more difficult when superiors take part in the ‘joking’.

“Fostering change becomes a duty of the young LGTBQ people, a job that requires extra emotional effort that the others don’t have to worry about.”

The report was presented by the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society on 16 March 2018.

The report:
Bredda normen, En kunskapssammanställning om unga hbtq-personers etablering på arbetsmarknaden (2018), author Sara Ahlstedt. (English translation of title: Extend the norm: A compilation of knowledge about young LGBTQ people’s establishment on the labour market)

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