One in seven LGBT+ women and non-binary people not open about sexuality at work, poll finds

28 Apr 2021 By Francis Churchill

Experts highlight HR’s ‘key role’ in equipping line managers to support LGBT+ staff as a quarter of respondents report receiving negative comments from colleagues

Around one in seven LGBT+ women and non-binary people are not open about their sexuality with anyone at work, a poll has found.

The Diva Survey report, released by Stonewall to mark Lesbian Visibility Week this week, found that, of the 1,884 LGBT+ women and non-binary people polled, 14 per cent said they were not open with any of their colleagues, compared to 68 per cent who were open with most of their colleagues.

When looking at just transgender and gender non-conforming people, the percentage who were not open at work increased to nearly third (32 per cent), compared to 53 per cent who were open with colleagues.

The poll also found that many LGBT+ women and non-binary people felt they needed to hide their sexuality or gender identity at work. More than a third of those surveyed (35 per cent) said that in the last year they had hidden or disguised their LGBT+ identities at work because of fear of discrimination either once or multiple times.

Similarly, almost a quarter (22 per cent) said they had received negative comments or conduct from colleagues because they were LGBT+ at latest once in the last year, while 28 per cent had heard or seen negative comments or conduct because a colleague was perceived to be LGBT+ in the last year.

Nearly one in five of those polled (18 per cent) said they had felt excluded because of their identity.

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Emma Kosmin, associate director of workplace client relationships at Stonewall, said the report showed progress had been made in recent years. “More than six in 10 LGBT+ women and non-binary people are open with their colleagues at work. This wouldn’t have been the case even a decade ago,” she said.

But, Kosmin added, many employers were still striving to improve support for lesbian and non-binary staff across their organisations, and there were many changes businesses could implement to improve inclusion. She said all businesses needed to have clear policies outlining how employees can safely report homophobic or transphobic harassment, and staff needed to be provided with inclusion and diversity training.

“Supporting staff properly means really understanding the issues that staff are facing and being committed to tackling them,” Kosmin said. “This starts with listening to employees, and creating spaces where they feel comfortable and supported; for example, a network group.”

Melanie Green, research adviser at the CIPD, said the report showed employers still had “some way to go” before workplaces were safe and inclusive for all LGBT+ people. She called on employers to have a “zero-tolerance approach” to harassment or bullying against LGBT+ people, and suggested targeted support where necessary.

“People professionals have a key role to play in auditing current people management practices, providing clear examples of what behaviour isn’t acceptable, and to equip line managers to deal with conflict and awareness of the issues LGBT+ people face in the workplace,” said Green.

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