To mark Epiphany’s celebration of 2019 Pride, I’ve pulled together some facts and suggestions for people and businesses around positive and lasting change in the workplace for LGBT+ staff.
Firstly, I think it’s useful to set some context. Many people don’t realise how widespread negativity towards LGBT+ staff still is, but the positive takeaway is that many companies are taking valuable steps towards workplace diversity and inclusion, more on how you and your business can do that after some alarming facts from Stonewall and YouGov:
Almost one in five LGBT staff (18%) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they’re LGBT.
One in eight trans people (12%) have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year because of being trans.
One in ten black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT staff (10%) have similarly been physically attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, compared to three per cent of white LGBT staff.
Almost one in five LGBT people (18%) who were looking for work said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity while trying to get a job in the last year.
One in eight black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees (12%) have lost a job in the last year because of being LGBT, compared to four per cent of white LGBT staff.
Almost two in five bi people (38%) aren’t out to anyone at work about their sexual orientation.
More than a third of LGBT staff (35%) have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT at work in the last year because they were afraid of discrimination. And the figures when split by age are remarkable:
One in eight lesbian, gay and bi people (12%) wouldn’t feel confident reporting any homophobic or biphobic bullying to their employer. One in five trans people (21%) wouldn’t report transphobic bullying in the workplace.
- Almost a third of non-binary people (31%) and one in five trans people (18%) don’t feel able to wear work attire representing their gender expression.
Statistics courtesy of LGBT in Britain – Work Report, Stonewall (2018)
What can we do?
- Be sensitive to the fact that office chat – and the personal paraphernalia on desks – tends to be heteronormative. Not everyone has a wife/husband or family, or the related interests (this includes single people who aren’t LGBT+). Just keep an eye out for people who don’t fit the norms, and may accidentally be excluded from your conversation, for whatever reason.
- LGBT+ people sometimes find it difficult to form working relationships with colleagues. Be aware of the impact of your words and actions on them, but equally don’t tiptoe around – trust takes time and effort, and a few identity abrasions on the way are inevitable and necessary. The risk is you’ll unconsciously work through pain-points with non-LGBT+ colleagues, but be hyper-vigilant with LGBT+ people, inadvertently failing to connect (remember, they may feel cautious, too, and will pick up on any perceived distancing)
- Be vigilant for ‘what happens next’ after making an inadvertently upsetting remark; we all do it from time to time (no-one knows the particular experiences, needs or mind-states of people we talk to). If someone tells you, or you notice the conversation has become unsafe, be ready to ask ‘what can we do to solve this
- If someone comes out to you, don’t shrug it off in a well-intentioned attempt to make that person feel it’s not a big deal. It is a big deal for many people, and being LGBT+ has its own challenges that even some members of that community are unaware of, except as non-specific pressure or anxiety in certain situations. Also, note that coming out may be a one-off vis-a-vis your relationship with this person, but for them it’s ‘Groundhog Day’.
- Understand that while being LGBT+ plays a central role in certain aspects of people’s lives (to varying degrees), it’s not all they are. They’re also human beings, who share many of the same goals and anxieties as you (notwithstanding point 1 above). Find the common ground (this applies to all difference), and work from there.
- Be wary of jumping in and branding someone as x-phobic or x-ist – it may be true, but you shouldn’t judge them from a single infraction or from overhearing a comment (needless to say, clearly offensive behaviours require intervention). Label the behaviour, not the person, and ask what they mean, rather than shutting them down, losing the opportunity to make meaningful change in the process.
As a business (12 points)
- Create, communicate and sustain a non-discrimination policy: this should prohibit discrimination based on protected characteristics; and make sure it’s clear where this policy applies – for example, to after-work events that are related to work, even if staff go on somewhere else after the event for a drink.
- Recognise that, in addition to our everyday life challenges, LGBT+ people have additional ones that may result in difficulties in certain situations or mental health issues. “Members of the LGBT community are more likely to experience a range of mental health problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and alcohol and substance misuse”
- Consider nominating LGBT+ allies. There’s a useful framework that can be adapted (and some other great info) in this Safe Space Kit.
- Review your work benefits – do they accidentally favour one group or certain groups over others? Do same-sex partners get the same benefits as heterosexual ones? Where it’s not possible to provide identical benefits, are equivalent ones available for all groups?
- Consider how your brand is seen in the market – are your recruitment and performance management processes free from bias? Are staff telling positive stories of working at your business? Be unequivocal and bold about your stance on diversity and inclusion as a whole.
- Be prepared to challenge clients who are biased. It’s not easy, and may not feel appropriate, but there are ways of quietly pointing out the issue, and offering an alternative. This applies to other protected characteristics as well; even if clients refuse to buy in to the moral argument, there are powerful business reasons for being inclusive (while it’s a shame they aren’t doing it for the right reasons, if the outcome is positive, then it’s a win).
- A possibly controversial one: offer a way for people who have genuine concerns about LGBT+ people to talk them through and find answers – don’t alienate anyone. This could be an anonymous help system, and a nominated person. If there’s a chance to help someone see where their fears come from and the impact of their behaviour, it should be taken.
- Improve trans inclusion – this is becoming a key issue, with misinformation and aggression on the increase. For example, have you got gender transition guidelines? This report contains some useful ideas.
- Collect diversity data in exit interviews, and make sure that LGBT+ people leaving the business feel able to voice specific concerns.
- Think about an LGBT+ network group, to offer support. This depends on the size of your business, but a D&I community (as we have at Epiphany) is a great idea.
- Are there any LGBT+ senior staff? If not, ask yourself whether there’s a bias at play. How are your teams made up? Diverse groups are more productive.
- Watch for virtue signalling – you may have the best intentions, but with sensitivity to offence and motivation running high these days, it’s better to take considered actions and quietly do something meaningful than to rush out and build a pride float with your brand all over it.
This last point is key; most companies aren’t actioning all of the above, but the vital element is that they are mindful that these issues exist and they are determined to address them.
A final word, make sure that intent leads to sustainable action – rainbow flags are great, but you need to authentically walk the walk, otherwise people will lose confidence, and everyone’s trust will be eroded in your willingness to actually make meaningful change.