Are workplaces in the United Kingdom LGBT-friendly?
According to the Stonewall Top 100 Employers 2016 report, respondents who feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation in the workplace to all colleagues, clients and customers, are much more likely to report being happy at work.
The winner of the twelfth Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index is MI5 and three other defence organisations have been named among the Top 100 Employers in the UK. The fact that companies like the MI5, Royal Navy, The Army and MI6 rank high in this annual report is quite an achievement if we think that until the early 90s there was a ban on LGB people joining a career in that sector. Does recent data prove a wider acceptance of the LGB(T) community within the British culture?
“LGBT discrimination in the workplace is still a fact in the UK,“ said Neil Cormack-Bissett, Chair of the LGBT+ Staff Network in an educational institution in London.
„As organisations have to follow the Equality Act, they do not legally discriminate but there are people on the ground who say things that are not appropriate. People do not make racist jokes anymore because they know it is wrong, but they still make homophobic jokes in the office.”
Sometimes, homophobic behaviour is due to this lack of understanding that the world is not necessarily straight. “When I got married no one in the office did a collection or a wedding card but a straight colleague who got married the same month got something and I think it came down to a bit of embarrassment of not knowing what to say. Still, it makes you feel you are not part of the office you work in”, Mr Cormack-Bissett highlighted.
The scenario becomes more complicated when it comes to gender identity. Trans people (T) are often overshadowed and 31 per cent of those who responded to the questionnaire to enter the Stonewall’s competition, declared not to be comfortable to disclose their gender identity to anyone at work. Not by chance, this year Stonewall Index is the first one to be trans inclusive and at present there is no definitive picture available of the laws affecting trans people.
“There are persons going into transition at work and that can be stressful. I can recall colleagues speaking to me who were transitioning and had been misgendered by managers who did not use the right pronoun and that was hurtful to them”, Neil Cormack-Bissett said.
Creating a more inclusive workplace is also important as companies rely on the skills of the most qualified professionals and generally speaking, organisations need a variety of profiles and competencies which add to the workplace, regardless of the sexual and gender orientation of their employees. “A different set of experiences and perspectives can help an organisation flourish”, the Stonewall Top 100 Employers 2016 document reads.
Organising LGBT events in the workplace is one of the many ways companies listed by Stonewall work to create an inclusive environment. “Events are important to get people talking about our community and becoming more comfortable with it. A lot of non-LGBT staff attend our events and it builds confidence by making you recognise friends and supporters in the workplace, despite all the negative experiences”, said Neil Cormack-Bissett.
Notwithstanding all the efforts made over the years to empower workplaces of the LGBT community, there is still a long way ahead for companies and organisations, if we think about the disproportionate lack of progression of LGBT staff, statistics on hand -Neil Cormack-Bissett. The Evening Standard has recently published a list of London’s LGBT leaders, each of them holding the title of CEO, director or country manager. More names need to be added to this directory, though. Stonewall has recently gained the support of all main political parties and is fully aware that it takes time to embed changes in the society.
Therefore, it is quite important for organisations to continue doing training and analysis as well as very focused work to support different protected characteristics, while understanding what might be preventing inclusion in the office.