July 5 2022

The challenges of being LGBT at work

Many LGBT employees feel they can’t be open about their identity at work. Those who are open often face discrimination and abuse. That’s according to the LGBT in Britain report by UK charity Stonewall. We’ll explore the challenges of being LGBT at work and what steps employers can take to overcome these..

How does LGBT discrimination at work affect businesses?

Discrimination, harassment and abuse at work cause a lot of stress. Subsequently, it can even lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. Employees who experience this are less motivated to work, less productive, and more likely to quit or be off sick. 

Inclusivity encourages healthier and productive employees 

Discrimination at work is not only totally unacceptable, it’s also illegal. It also costs UK businesses billions every year. Work-related stress decreases business productivity and costs UK companies around £26 billion a year. Shockingly, stress is the primary cause of absences from work. 

Discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender reassignment is illegal under the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination claims against employers can be lengthy and expensive. Importantly, they can also cause considerable damage to a company’s reputation. 

Businesses that are diverse and inclusive have happier, healthier workforces and reap the rewards. A study called ‘LGBT Diversity Show Me The Business Case’, highlights exactly how. We’ve summarised this report for you in our article, LGBTQ+ inclusion at work

What are the professional challenges of LGBT people?

Here are some of the main challenges of being LGBT at work, and what employers can do to overcome them.

Challenge 1: Discrimination and bullying

18% of LGBT employees experienced negative actions or conduct because of their gender identity or sexual orientation (LGBT in Britain). Importantly, 12% of trans people and 10% of LGBT ethnic minority employees reported physical abuse by other staff or by customers. 

The challenges of being LGBT at work also include reduced career opportunities. For example, 18% reported being discrimination during the recruitment process. 

It’s no wonder that many LGBT people decide to hide their true identity. Certainly, coming out at work, or being ‘outed’ against their wishes, are serious concerns for LGBT employees. The fear of rejection from an employer or colleagues can be immense. 

What can employers do to help fight discrimination and bullying of LGBT employees?

  • Promote a culture of acceptance and belonging with LGBT role models. This means recruiting and retaining LGBT people across all departments and levels. 
  • Consider whether your website and job advertisements clearly communicate your business’s commitment to having a diverse, inclusive workforce. Do you have an LGBT inclusive job application process? Are your HR team trained to identify bias in the recruitment process and to address it?
  • You could provide training for all staff to raise awareness of LGBT discrimination. Training can help employees understand common (and harmful) behaviour like insensitive ‘banter’. 
  • Through your diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) policies, communicate a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and harassment. Make sure all staff read and agree to DEI policies and know how to report workplace bullying. 
  • Clearly communicate that management takes all complaints seriously and will act on them promptly.

Challenge 2: Inequality in the workplace

There are many forms of LGBT inequality at work. People may experience:

  • Harassment and bullying by managers, colleagues or customers.
  • Insensitive ‘banter’.
  • Being left out of informal social events organised by colleagues.
  • Unequal pay.
  • Not being offered a job.
  • Lower chances of promotion.

What can employers do to help fight LGBT inequality in the workplace?

  • Have solid DEI policies. Ensure everybody understands what behaviour is unacceptable and the complaints process.
  • Identify the issues LGBT employees face and take steps to address them.
  • Monitor diversity data to track whether career and professional development opportunities are equal across all departments, roles, and levels of the company. 
  • Create networks for LGBT employees so they have a collective voice.

Stonewall has a free Workplace Equality Index. It will help you assess your progress and achievements around LGBT inclusion. The index covers areas like employee policy, employee lifecycle, and staff network groups.

Be data-conscious 

Collect and process information sensitively. Be sure to adhere to regulations around data protection. For this reason, it’s vital that employees tasked with managing data receive appropriate training.

Challenge 3: Under-representation in leadership roles

Nobody really knows how many LGBT people are in senior leadership roles. That’s because the data doesn’t exist in the UK at present. However, there’s likely to be under-representation of LGBT employees with additional identities (female, transgender, bisexual, from ethnic minorities, disabled, etc.). 

When The Guardian compiled a list of the world’s top LGBT leaders, the newspaper noted that 24% were women. In addition, the list revealed there were ‘few from ethnic minorities, no bisexual and only three transgender nominees.’ The Guardian report doesn’t even mention disabled people or those with other characteristics, for example, neurodiversity.

The LGBT in Britain report by Stonewall found that 19% of black, Asian and ethnic minority LGBT people missed out on a job or a promotion because of their identity. This compares to 10% of other LGBT employees. 

These statistics clearly show some of challenges of being LGBT at work. Above all, these groups are considerably less likely than other employees to reach senior positions.

What can employers do to promote a greater representation of LGBT people?

  • Provide leadership training.
  • Offer sponsorship or mentoring programmes for LGBT employees who want it. Why not pair junior LGBT staff with senior employees who can support them with their career progression?
  • You might set up an LGBT employee network that the leadership team actively supports. 

It’s important that organisations support and empower LGBT staff to progress in their careers. Active support means joining groups, championing them, and taking part in events. 

If you’re considering a mentoring programme, consider specialist training for mentors. Most importantly, this can help them understand and identify the obstacles that LGBT employees face. This is even more important if they don’t identify as LGBT themselves.

Challenge 4: Lack of understanding around LGBT 

A lack of understanding around LGBT issues can make LGBT employees feel uncomfortable and even threatened. 

Transgender employees face particular challenges. For instance, a third of transgender employees have been excluded from work-organised social events (Stonewall LGBT in Briain). 

What can employers do to create better awareness around LGBT?

  • Create a gender-neutral environment with unisex toilets.
  • Offer ‘Mx’ as a title alongside the standard options of Mrs, Miss, Mr. etc. 
  • Review your use of pronouns (he/she etc) to be more inclusive.
  • Use the word ‘partner’, which is more inclusive than the traditional ‘husband’ and ‘wife’.
  • Educate staff about inclusion through training, sharing resources and holding open discussions. 
  • Focus on particular areas of LGBT inclusion. For example, the dual discrimination faced by LGBT people.

It’s important that all employees understand that inclusion isn’t just about following the law. It’s about basic humanity, respect, and celebrating differences.

Addressing the challenges of being LGBT at work

The most effective way to address the challenges of being LGBT at work is a multifaceted approach. In other words, consider staff training and education, taking steps to challenge misconceptions, creating allies, and implementing a robust DEI policy.

LGBT inclusion at work is fundamental to the success of a business. Given the link between employee wellbeing and productivity, it makes good business sense to create a supportive and welcoming workplace where everybody can succeed.