One in five LGBT people still aren’t ‘out’ at work, according to national survey

Many experience negative reactions from colleagues – and say employers are ‘unhelpful’ in handling serious incidents

One in five (19 per cent) LGBT employees has not felt able to be open with colleagues about their sexuality, according to findings from a government-backed national survey that paint a picture of widespread negativity towards LGBT individuals at work.

The survey, published yesterday, was launched in July 2017 to gather the experiences of LGBT people in the UK and set in place a plan to combat prejudice across society. It formed the largest survey of LGBT people in the world to date, with more than 108,000 responses. 

More than one in five respondents (23 per cent) experienced a negative or mixed reaction from others in the workplace because of being LGBT, while 77 per cent of people who had experienced a ‘serious’ workplace incident related to their sexuality said they did not report it because they thought it “would not be worth it” or that “nothing would happen or change”. 

Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said the results should be a “wake-up call on a number of fronts” for businesses. 

“It’s clear that there is more employers can be doing to embrace the LGBT+ community. There is still the need for more education on LGBT+ issues, which starts with asking employees about their experiences and raising awareness about and responding to matters affecting the community,” McCartney said. 

She advised employers to be vocal on the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion and to ensure that these principles are threaded throughout their policies, practices and organisational values. 

Darren Towers, executive director of business development at Stonewall, told People Management that employers cannot use a ‘one size fits all’ approach for diversity and inclusion. 

Towers said employers were on the “frontline of driving equality in society” and could encourage change by listening to and understanding their LGBT employees. 

“People spend most of their adult lives at work, so if we can get workplace inclusion right it would make a huge difference for so many LGBT people,” Towers said. “Employers and HR 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 employees to come together, discuss their issues and offer their own potential solutions.”

Jules Quinn, employment partner at King & Spalding, added that the figures and experiences detailed in the survey were “really disappointing”. 

“Employers need to continually scrutinise their practices and culture to root out discrimination, or perceived discrimination, and embrace a diverse workforce,” Quinn said. “Every employer has to answer this question – am I creating an environment in which my employees can be their true and authentic selves?”

The most common incidents experienced by LGBT individuals were others disclosing their LGBT status without their permission, verbal harassment and exclusion from events or activities. 

More than half (51 per cent) of those who had experienced serious incidents said HR departments were unhelpful when handling them, or that they were not aware of how to report (12 per cent) or had undergone negative experiences when previously reporting incidents (11 per cent). 

McCartney said a culture of under-reporting could lead to people losing their trust in their employers: “This will lead to an increase in undesirable behaviours, conflict in the workplace and a loss of valuable employees who do not feel supported or included. That is why it is so vital for organisations to commit wholeheartedly to developing inclusive workplace cultures.”

More than seven in 10 (72 per cent) respondents said they considered LGBT organisations and charities helpful when handling serious workplace incidents. Six in 10 (64 per cent) also felt that diversity or other staff networks helped handle these incidents. 

Earlier this year, a YouGov survey revealed that half of transgender and non-binary people disguised or hid the fact that they were LGBT in the workplace for fear of discrimination. 

Stonewall, which commissioned the survey, called for employers to develop zero-tolerance policies on transphobic harassment and discrimination in the workplace. 

The latest episode of That HR Podcast, from People Management, discusses how businesses can work towards genuine LGBT inclusivity, and includes contributions from Krishna Omkar, Stonewall’s Role Model of the Year, among others