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Is it safe to come out … ?

In January this year, a Stonewall survey stated that half of LGBT employees had not disclosed their non-binary status at work for fear of discrimination. Now another survey report has been published by the government and it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made.

Our survey says …

The new report follows the largest survey of LGBT people in the world so far (108,000 responses) and shows that:

  • 23% of respondents had experienced a negative or mixed reaction from colleagues about their sexuality.
  • 77% had experienced a ‘serious’ incident connected to their sexuality in the workplace but did not report it because of a lack of faith in the employer and/or the likely response.
  • 12% didn’t know the procedure for reporting such incidents.
  • 51% of those who did report an incident found that it was not handled well.

No wonder LGBT employees may be reluctant to come out at work …

Why is not feeling able to come out a problem?

Apart from the obvious point that keeping a secret can be stressful (as the Stonewall charity has stated in the past, people perform better when they can be themselves), some of the possible consequences of not being able to be open about such a personal issue include:

  • A lack of trust in the employer.
  • An increase in workplace conflict.
  • An increase in staff turnover.

How to support LGBT staff – a few simple suggestions for starters

It seems clear from the abovementioned surveys that there’s more to be done in creating workplaces which are equally welcoming for all.

Education would be a good start. How many of your ‘straight’ employees (assuming they are straight and you’re not just assuming … ) really understand the LGBT experience – that just a casual chat among colleagues about what everybody’s doing this weekend with their partner can become a minefield in which each person’s reaction to a pronoun is nervously monitored?

One supportive action that costs nothing, is to make the company’s position clear. A simple statement of inclusion and diversity is a good first step to show you’re taking the issue seriously.

Going another step, check your procedures and policies to see if there is any inherent (often unintentional) bias. For instance, if you have a policy supporting employees who are parents/guardians, does the wording exclude non-binary staff (using an incorrect or exclusionary pronoun is easy to do without meaning to)?

If discriminatory behaviour happens (almost certainly, a more accurate word is ‘when’), take it seriously no matter whether you think the incident was serious or not. First, it’s undoubtedly more serious to the person on the receiving end of the behaviour than it is to you. And second, adopting a zero-tolerance approach is the fastest way to embed a non-discrimination policy.

Consider how, as a local business, you might get involved in more inclusive local events; for example, being a sponsor for a local Pride event, or celebrating National Coming Out Day.

Oh, and just in case anyone is looking at their workplace and thinking, nobody’s out, but that’s because nobody’s LGBT – how do you know?

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