LGBT employees are still struggling to be open about their sexual identities at work, according to new findings from Stonewall. In joint research with YouGov, the campaign group polled more than 3,200 UK LGBT workers, and discovered that 35% had hidden their identities at work in the past year to protect themselves from discrimination – a figure Stonewall described as “astonishing”. However, that rose to 42% for black, Asian and minority-ethnic LGBT workers, and 51% for trans staff.
Almost one in five of the respondents had been targets of negative comments or behaviours from colleagues in the past year. And almost a quarter of trans respondents said they did not get promotions they were up for because they were trans – compared to 7% of non-trans lesbian, gay and bi people.
Stonewall chief executive Ruth Hunt said: “Over the past decade, leading employers across all sectors have shown a real commitment to inclusion and have taken positive steps towards LGBT equality. Unfortunately, the findings of our Work Report show there’s still lots to do. The fact that more than a third of LGBT staff have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination shows that change is still very much needed.
Hunt added: “Creating a workplace that accepts everyone isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. When staff feel comfortable and happy, they will perform much better than if they’re having to hide who they are. We need more organisations and businesses to be active and visible in demonstrating their support for their LGBT employees.”
With Hunt’s words in mind, what can leaders do to create the kind of workplace cultures she calls for?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The first step towards creating a more inclusive culture is to explain to staff why it’s such a good idea. We at the Institute are always eager to convey how important it is for people to feel that they can bring their whole selves to work, so that is one crucial element here. Another is that organisations will secure an instant advantage if their workforces are as diverse as their customer bases. We know that diversity yields more creative solutions – whether that’s in terms of how firms are run, or how products and services are developed.”
Overall, Cooper explains, we should be aspiring to a more tolerant society – and communicating to employees that tolerance is a more streamlined and dynamic choice. “One of the main problems with prejudice,” she says, “is that it often seems to exist in the abstract. But its various constituent parts have concrete, personal effects. As such, it’s crucial for leaders and managers to stay alert to unwelcoming attitudes towards – or disparaging comments about – LGBT people, and challenge those issues head-on as they emerge, rather than avoiding them. A blanket solution, such as sexual-orientation awareness training for all, will not be enough by itself.”
Also, Cooper notes, “we should ensure that we’re not tempted into complacency by the notion that the picture will automatically improve over time. I have no doubt that it will get better, simply because young people’s attitudes are more tolerant and there’s greater recognition not just of non-binary sexual orientation, but gender fluidity, too. However, it’s not enough to assume that progress will move directly and consistently along an upward curve without our continued hard work and input.”
She adds: “The young LGBT employees of today are going to be staying in the workforce for longer than staff of previous generations. They will be relying upon our commitment to inclusive values – so we can’t just rely on evolution.”
For further thoughts on appreciating diversity, check out these learning resources from the Institute