- Support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) in the workplace

Do you go to work afraid to be your real self for fear of what might happen if people knew the truth? I am not talking about having your ‘business head’ on and not joking around in the same way as you may when out socially with friends. I mean ‘playing the part’ all day, every day, in front of your colleagues. Did you know that many LGBT people are scared to ‘come out’ at work for fear of repercussions, specifically the fear of hostility, negativity and violence against them, or the fear of stalling their professional careers?

In new research conducted by Stonewall, Britain’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, it was found that 35% of LGBT staff hide, or have hidden the fact that they are LGBT for fear of discrimination in the workplace. This figure rises to 42% for black, Asian and ethnic minority LGBT staff where a staggering one in ten reported having been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the past year. The figure rises further still, to 51%, for transgender staff of all backgrounds.

Broken down even further, 18% reported having been the target of negative comments and conduct in the past year, 18% of LGBT jobseekers reported being discriminated against because of their identity and/or sexual orientation, and 24% of transgender employees reported being passed over for promotions that they were up for, based on their identity.

These findings have highlighted the need for zero-tolerance policies on discrimination and harassment based on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, clear processes for reporting anti-LGBT bullying, and the need for employers to take an active role in supporting LGBT staff to feel comfortable, confident and safe in the workplace.

However, supporting LGBT people goes much further than simply having the right policies in place.

Therefore, this month’s blog will look at this issue from the viewpoint of the LGBT person, to help inspire us, as employers, to know what to do to support LGBT staff in feeling comfortable and confident to be open about who they are.

Let’s focus on two main concerns LGBT staff report having, which ultimately help them decide whether to come out or stay in the closet:

Will I be subjected to hostility/violence if I come out at work?

In these cases, an LGBT person will likely look at the culture of their workplace. Do any of the staff maintain a very conservative view of how people should be and how they should live? Do any of the staff openly mock groups or lifestyles that differ from their own? Are there any staff members who exhibit violent tendencies or speak in very aggressive ways?

Whether these variables are clear or not, it is advisable to have a policy in place for dealing with workplace harassment and violence.

Assess if there is a risk of harassment or violence against LGBT staff (as well as any other group). You may be in an advantageous position where you know your staff well enough to be able to predict their responses and reactions to certain situations. If, as a result of this knowledge, you feel you have identified a risk, develop measures and procedures to control those risks, and to respond to them quickly and effectively.

Your policy should show your commitment to protecting your staff from harassment and violence. It should also outline the process for reporting workplace violence, bullying and harassment. Make sure this policy is clear and posted somewhere (physically or electronically) that is easily and quickly accessible to all staff, i.e. company intranet or staff noticeboard.

Will coming out hurt my career chances?

There are many cases of LGBT employees being passed over for promotions or pay increases, even when the ‘right’ policies were in place to prevent such occurrences. Therefore, it is vital to be aware that, when an LGBT person is considering whether your company is a ‘safe’ place to come out or not, your company’s philosophies will far outweigh your company’s policies. When an employer openly places more emphasis on the skills its employees bring to the company and the quality of their performance, this is an environment where LGBT staff will feel more comfortable and confident in coming out.

However, if your workplace consists of staff, supervisors and managers who breathe negativity, use slurs (pertaining to any group), or criticise and tease colleagues for their personal choices, lifestyle or otherwise, you can be sure that an LGBT person will feel their career is much safer if they keep their true identity hidden.

In conclusion, coming out should be good for both the LGBT individual AND the employer. A successful worker and a successful workplace doesn’t boil down exclusively to the quality and speed of output, or professional levels of conduct – the most harmonious working environments and most effective teams are typically made up of people who share their lives and make genuine connections with each other. This can’t happen if an individual feels the need to stay very busy hiding who they really are.

Combining effective company policies with open and embracing company philosophies will go a long way towards supporting LGBT people in feeling comfortable and confident in being their true selves in today’s workplace.

If you would like any assistance writing and/or updating your company policies, please contact Su Allen HR on 01582 883299 or via email: su@suallen.co.uk.