Three simple ways businesses can support LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace

Dr Justin Varney, Interim Strategy & Policy Lead at Business in the Community discusses the troubling findings of BITC's new report Working With Pride: Issues affecting LGBT+ people in the workplace, and outlines three steps businesses can take to address them, making their workplaces more inclusive.

When did you last walk to a meeting thinking about whether you have to hide part of your life from the people you are about to meet? Have you ever had to slip off your wedding ring to avoid a conversation about your partner with your boss? At the work social events have you ever had to lie about your partner or bring a substitute to keep your relationship secret from your colleagues?

Most heterosexual and cis-gender people never have to think about whether it is safe to be their full authentic selves at work. Yet for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans+ individuals this is a daily reality. The BITC Working with Pride report brings together findings for LGBT+ employees from two of BITC’s flagship research projects (Mental Health at Work & Equal Lives) working in partnership with Mercer Marsh and Santander. This research shines a light on the views and experiences of working adults in Britain and provides a specific insight into the experiences in UK business. Frankly, the findings are pretty depressing and put into stark relief the inequalities and negative experiences of LGBT+ people in Britain’s businesses today.

  • Over a third of LGBT+ employees aged 18-29 years said that they have had to hide or disguise their sexual orientation or gender identity at work because they were afraid of discrimination
  • Over a quarter of senior LGBT+ employees at CEO and Board levels have been advised to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity at work
  • One in five BAME LGBT+ employees had experienced negative reactions from clients or colleagues or customers compared to just over one in ten white LGBT+ employees
  • 7% of LGBT+ employees had experienced physical violence in the workplace from colleagues or customers in the last year and this proportion doubled for BAME LGBT+ employees
  • LGBT+ carers were 10% less likely to be taking up support like flexible working than their heterosexual counterparts, and less likely to be receiving support from their line managers

It’s not surprising from these statistics that the mental health and wellbeing of LGBT+ employees is poor. The analysis of the Mental Health at Work data found that almost three-quarters of LGBT+ employees have experienced mental health problems due to work, or where work was a contributing factor, compared to just under two-thirds of all employees. Rates of mental health problems linked to work were higher for non-binary individuals and LGBT+ women.

Sadly the report found that the groups most affected by mental health were the least comfortable talking about their sexual orientation in the workplace and the least comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace. This suggests a double whammy of exclusion and isolation and highlights the need for more organisations to think about the intersectionality between different aspects of identity and some of the specific needs of minorities within minorities.

This picture of exclusion, or lack of engagement with services and support, was also highlighted in the analysis of the Equal Lives research which focused on experiences of caring in the workplace. In general LGB+ people with caring responsibilities were less positive about caring and less positive about work than their heterosexual counterparts with caring responsibilities. Across the sample, they were also less satisfied with their mental and physical health and financial wellbeing.

LGBT+ carers were accessing less support from their line managers and less likely to take up policies like home working or flexible working than their heterosexual counterparts. This was particularly stark for gay and bisexual male carers of children who were more likely to be main carers than heterosexual men but less likely to take up these support policies.

The report calls on business to take three simple steps to move towards more inclusive workplaces:

  1. Recognise: Explicitly recognise that there are LGBT+ people working for you, with you, and receiving your services as customers and clients.
  2. Respond: Review, with LGBT+ staff, policies and procedures to ensure that the structural organisational response is accessible and explicitly inclusive of LGBT+ people and their needs.
  3. Role Model: Celebrate diversity and inclusion through role models, staff diversity and ally networks and executive and board champions.

The business case for action on diversity and inclusion is now well established, we know that this kind of exclusion and discrimination is not just harming individuals but is also damaging business in the bottom line.

Responsible businesses recognise that diversity and inclusion is a core part of doing business better and achieving strong financial returns as well as the social impact for staff, customers and communities. The experiences reflected in this report are a reflection of the choices that employers are making about policies, procedures and organisational culture, and the impact that this has on people’s lives.

Although progress is being made, particularly on trans inclusion, this research suggests that it is not fast or strong enough to make Britain the best place to be in business and it is a powerful nudge to UK business to step up more in this space.