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Intersectional Experiences

Women in the Workplace: Lesbian & Bisexual Women

Since 2016, Lean In and McKinsey & Company have conducted Women in the Workplace, the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. Each year, the findings clearly show that there is no single story of women at work. To better capture the diversity of women’s experiences, our 2021 report includes data-driven narratives that highlight the experiences of lesbian and bisexual women, Asian women, Black women, Latinas, and women with disabilites.

Lesbian and bisexual women often face disrespectful and othering behavior in their workplaces. They are more likely than women overall to experience most microaggressions, including being interrupted or spoken over, having their judgment questioned, and being expected to speak on behalf of all people with their identity. Additionally, although they are about as likely as women overall to receive positive feedback on their job performance, they are more likely to hear negative feedback related to how they present themselves at work, such as being told that they are too outspoken and confrontational.

Given these negative experiences, it’s not surprising that lesbian and bisexual women often don’t feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work. Almost half of lesbian and bisexual women feel as though they must be careful when talking about their personal lives in their workplace, and they are significantly more likely than women overall to feel uncomfortable sharing their work/life challenges or experience of burnout with colleagues. On top of this, they are often the only person of their sexuality in the room, which means they are more likely to feel isolated and scrutinized.

“I told my coworker that I’m gay and I’m married to a woman. And he said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t tell our manager because he’s homophobic.’ So ever since then, I have kept my personal life private.” —White women, VP, lesbian, children under 10

Despite the challenges they face personally, lesbian and bisexual women are powerful advocates for other women with traditionally marginalized identities. More than half of lesbian and bisexual women say they consistently take a public stand to support gender and racial equity, compared to only a third of women overall. Lesbian and bisexual women are also significantly more likely than women overall to advocate for new opportunities for women of color, publicly acknowledge them for their contributions, and speak out when they see bias and discrimination against women of color at work.

The narrative is based on data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s 2021 Women in the Workplace study. While it sheds light on some of the distinct experiences of lesbian and bisexual women, it is by no means comprehensive. Women face multiple and intersecting biases due to many aspects of their identity.

Lesbian and bisexual women refers to women who self-identify as bisexual, pansexual, gay, lesbian, or homosexual. Although the research sample for Women in the Workplace includes transgender and gender nonbinary individuals, sample sizes are not large enough to draw general conclusions about their experiences.

For more data and insights on women’s experiences at work, read the full Women in the Workplace 2021 report. To learn how your company can empower employees to take meaningful action as allies, explore Lean In’s new Allyship at Work program.