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LGBTQIA+ at Work: A Reality Check

Feb 3, 2022
LGBTQIA+ at Work: A Reality Check

It’s LGBTQIA+ history month, and we’re reflecting on the workplace reality that exists for this community, as well as how we as employers and colleagues can step up our allyship, and be part of the drive for cultural change. Whilst progress is made every day, we still have a long, long way to go. 

This hit home for us early this month when we checked in with some impactful statistics:

One Third of LGBTQIA+ staff hide their sexuality at work, for fear of discrimination.

One fifth of LGBTQIA+ people experience discrimination when trying to get a job.

In Britain, nearly two in five bisexual people are not ‘out’ about their sexuality to any of their colleagues.

10% of BAME, LGBTQIA+ workers and 12% of trans employees were physically assaulted by customers or colleagues in the past year.

12% of Lesbian, gay and bisexual professionals, and 21% of trans professionals, say they would not feel comfortable reporting homophobic, biphobic or transphobic workplace bullying to their employer.

31% of non binary people, and 18% of trans people do not feel able to wear workplace attire that’s representative of their gender identity.

While Diversity and Inclusion are better understood and prioritised than in the past, we must not fail to recognise the persisting signs of underrepresentation at a high level. report:

“LGBTQ+ women, for example, are more underrepresented than women generally in America’s largest corporations. Just four openly LGBTQ+ CEOs head these corporations, only one of whom is female and none of whom is trans.”

The Problem with ‘Onlyness’:

Onlyness is what someone experiences when they are the only person in the room, the meeting, the team or the company, with any given gender identity, sexual orientation, race or other identifier.

It is proven that Onlyness increases levels of psychological stress. On top of the stress and pressures that professionals experience every day, this is a very real and concerning impediment to performance, and must be considered and wherever possible, remedied, in order to have fair expectations of all our colleagues.

Employees who face multifaceted onlyness, such as Being the only woman and LGBTQIA+ person, or the only black person and gender non-binary person, experience even more heightened levels of this stress.

Progression, Ethos and Motives.

The LGBTQIA+ community consistently report feeling that their sexual orientation may hinder their progression at work, with the figures at 3 in 10 for women and 6 in 10 for men. But in senior positions, LGBTQIA+ identifying people more often bring a strong leadership ethos to their position, citing motivations such as being a role model for others in their community, and having a positive impact on the world.

However, integrating the benefits of this kind of mindset, as well as the myriad of different kinds of value offered by LGBTQIA+ colleagues into your team depends upon creating an inclusive environment from the outset. Both LGBTQIA+ and trans groups have a higher likelihood of leaving their jobs within a shorter time frame when compared to their Cis counterparts. This can be an impediment to progression and hinder the potential to create a lasting, well aligned relationship with a company, leading to fewer promotions and therefore underrepresentation at higher levels.

Supporting an Inclusive mindset.

Tangible structure and policy are necessary and undoubtedly beneficial when looking to supporting LGBTQIA+ colleagues in your workplace. 

But if you’re looking to create authentic, lasting change from the inside out, to establish a genuinely inclusive culture where your LGBTQIA+ colleagues know that they can bring their whole selves to work and be accepted and celebrated fully, then it also has to come from within.

That means figuring out how we can improve as individuals and in turn, as a collective. 

Here are a few prompts to assess your approach:

Recognise whether you are making assumptions. Ensure that you listen, and allow new employees to lead on how they are addressed, rather than assigning without asking. For existing colleagues, ensure that support and communication are accessible for any changes in their pronouns or how they identify.

This goes for paperwork too. When the correct box isn’t there to tick, this creates a feeling of exclusion, lack of recognition or invalidation, and can be a sign of outdated diversity policies within an organisation.

As some of us are more familiar with the question of pronouns than others, especially using neutral pronouns such as ‘they/them’, it’s worth making sure all your employees are aware of the correct and preferred way to address new colleagues.

Dealing with Incidents.

This one is simple but vital. We need to have correct policy in place around discrimination, and when an incident occurs, we need to follow through on dealing with it in the right way.

It can often be tempting to ‘maintain the peace’ by not making a ‘big deal’ out of discrimination issues, especially if these become repetitive. But all this does is silence LGBTQIA+ colleagues, making less room for them, and more room for a problematic and toxic culture to thrive.

This translates to decreased diversity in your team, and your business losing out on all the benefits of unique perspective, talent, creative thinking and progression which it has to offer.

Striking the balance.

We understand, you want to make it known that you are accepting of all, and that support is available when needed, but you don’t want to be invasive or set any expectation for employees to share their personal details where they have not initiated it. It can feel like walking a tightrope.

There’s no right answer here, as everyone is different. But the wrong one would be either avoiding the issue altogether and making employees feel uncomfortable when they do want to share, or being too curious and invading their privacy.

One effective approach can be to let the individual lead, and discover where their boundaries are. This means if they mention their partner, home situation, or some aspect of their identity or journey, you can engage in that conversation in a curious, open, and friendly way. If they don’t bring it up on the other hand, it may be best not to broach the subject. 

This is much the same approach you might take toward a health or financial situation, ‘I know it’s not my business, but you can talk to me if it helps.’

Someone may choose to share more in time or they may never, and both are okay. As long as you are making sure that all colleagues, no matter what you may be aware or unaware of about them, know that support is available, policy is in place, and can access the right line of communication when needed, that’s what’s most important.

Share your perspective in the comments.

Read our Whitepaper on How to Elevate Diversity & Inclusion within your Team

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