Why is coming out still a problem at work?

New research from Stonewall, Britain’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality, reveals troubling discrimination in Britain’s workplaces.

Amongst the key points of the survey, the charity reveals that coming out at work is still a problem for many - over a third of respondents have hidden their identity in the last year, for fear of discrimination. What responsibility do businesses have towards their LGBT staff and how can they help their workplace feel more inclusive?

LGBT barriers at work

Stonewall’s report is based on a YouGov survey of 3,213 LGBT employees. The research found that a worrying 35 per cent of LGBT people have hidden their identity within the last year, for fear of discrimination; a figure that rises to 42 per cent for black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT staff, and 51 per cent for trans staff.

According to the survey, one in eight LGBT people say that they were encouraged to hide or disguise that they are LGBT by a work colleague. This increases to one in four trans people. One in five LGBT disabled people have been encouraged to hide in the last year, compared to nine per cent of non-disabled LGBT people. Alarmingly, black, Asian, and other minority ethnic LGBT people are also more likely to have experienced this.

Despite the UK being consistently regarded as one of the best countries in the world for LGBT rights, figures show that attitudes and discrimination towards LGBT staff in the workplace still give cause for concern. 18 per cent of LGBT staff continued to face negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year. This includes being the target of derogatory remarks, experiencing bullying and abuse, and being outed without consent.

One of the survey’s respondents, Freddie, 59, from West Yorkshire, said: “I retired early because of being outed in my workplace. My employer’s attitude was appalling: I was told it was my own fault and to put up with the abuse I received.”

Read: Why businesses should be LGBT-friendly

Freddie is not alone. “I had to leave work due to the discrimination I was facing at my job. I'm a disabled, queer woman and I got bullied for all these aspects by other employees and my manager,” says Aneisha, 30, from Wales.

Although Stonewall recognises that some companies have done more to support LGBT staff, the charity is adamant that we must take further steps.

Darren Towers, Executive Director at Stonewall UK, said: “Leading employers across sectors have shown a real commitment to inclusion and have taken positive steps towards LGBT equality over the past decade. Unfortunately, our own research shows just how much remains to be done to ensure all staff feel accepted.”

Supporting LGBT staff

Businesses of all sizes need to understand the importance of supporting LGBT staff and making the workplace more inclusive.

Research has shown that inclusivity at work holds the promise of many positive outcomes, such as a renewed sense of purpose, better communication and engagement between teams, and reduced staff turnover.

“We believe people perform better when they can be themselves. Businesses with high-performing staff typically have inclusive policies, benefits that apply to everyone and a workplace culture where diversity is not just welcomed but championed at all levels,” says Towers.

He points out that as we spend most of our adult lives at work, so inclusivity needs to be a priority within the workplace. Companies need a diversity and inclusion strategy aimed at LGBT staff, for both recruitment and retention.

Since the 2010 Equality Act, companies have legal obligations towards LGBT staff. The government has also pledged to provide employers with free training materials to support inclusion in the workplace. Business owners and HR departments must think beyond this, however, about what is needed to meet the needs of their staff.

“Diversity and inclusion cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Employers and HR staff should listen to the needs of their lesbian, gay, bi and trans employees and address the challenges they face.

“This means creating safe spaces for LGBT employees to come together, discuss their issues and offer their own potential solutions. Leaders need to then listen, understand, and use their power to collaboratively drive change, not just expect their LGBT employees to solve everything for them,” says Towers.

The charity holds many resources on its website to help employers and employees deal with LGBT issues, such as LGBT-inclusive toolkits and private and public sector help. Clear HR policies that outline ways to safely report homophobic, biphobic and transphobic harassment are required, as are training sessions for staff with diversity and inclusion, amongst other actions.

Read: Yassmin Abdel-Magied on creating inclusive work environments

Changes to become more inclusive

Thanks to Stonewall’s Top 100 Inclusive Employers index, we can see which businesses are at the forefront of change, diversity and inclusion for LGBT employees. Over 430 employers across a range of industries took part one of the largest UK’s largest national employment surveys this year, with over 93,000 employees responding.

This year, the National Assembly for Wales tops the list, thanks to their commitment to valuing diversity, promoting inclusion and addressing inequalities both as an employer and service provider.

They have been commended for their efforts with peer support groups, mentoring and coaching their members and allies, and developing workplace systems that are inclusive of trans and non-binary staff.

“Trans staff in particular, are more vulnerable than ever,” says Towers. “They face huge levels of discrimination, abuse and bullying, across all parts of society. One in eight trans employees (12 per cent) have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the past year. This makes visible support of employers critical in achieving trans equality.”

He advises on trans-specific measures employers can adopt to improve the workplace for  trans employees and consumers, such as supporting events like Trans Day of Visibility and Trans Day of Remembrance. Employers can also update their HR systems to offer gender-neutral pronouns like Mx on titles and provide gender-neutral facilities.

As part of basic training for staff, companies can outline zero-tolerance policies on transphobic bullying, discrimination and harassment, as well as developing policies to support employees who are transitioning, including information on confidentiality and dress codes.

He adds: “Employers are at the front lines of driving equality in society; by working together, we can ensure that all LGBT people feel safe and accepted at work, home, and in their everyday life.”

Stonewall also has tips for employers on how to make the workplace more LGBT-inclusive.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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