Your business could be homophobic without you realising

Three in five LGBT employees report being made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace as a direct result of their sexuality.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 04 Jul 2019

It’s hard to admit that your business is anything but inclusive, let alone actively prejudiced. You may work in a multicultural city centre, with a melting pot of colleagues from various backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations; you may think you or your colleagues would never dream of discriminating.

Yet it’s all too easy to believe bigotry is a thing of the past when you’ve had the privilege of not experiencing it yourself, or to assume that discrimination isn’t going on because no one’s filed a report.

The truth is that our society, and our workplaces, are far more inclusive to some people then others. According to Stonewall data, one in five LGBT+ people have experienced hate crime in the last 12 months, and it’s spilling into the workplace.

A recent study of 4,000 UK workers by LinkedIn, in partnership with UK Black Pride, found that 21 per cent of LGBT+ respondents said they had received abuse in the office, while 61 per cent said they had been made to feel uncomfortable as a direct result of their sexuality.

This is happening, whether the boss knows about it or not - and ignorance has consequences. Nadya Powell, co-founder of cultural change agency Utopia, sums it up well when she says that by staying silent, "you're signalling that prejudice is acceptable and letting it in." 

Instead, Powell says that every leader should start from the assumption that their organisation might be homophobic and be prepared to address it through open dialogue. 

Change begins with conversation, and conversation begins at the top. That dialogue might reveal some unwanted truths, but it is more likely to highlight the far greater levels of acceptance, kindness and support that you already knew were there. By raising the fact that some people might feel excluded or discriminated against, you take the first step to solving the problem.

Bosses must lead the way by publicly championing inclusion, backing it up with action, not just piecemeal statements. Stonewall recommends, among other things, developing staff networking groups and monitoring sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace to increase insight and map the challenges faced and the actions needed.

There can be a tendency to over-complicate diversity, and think that the answer lies in setting out on grandiose box-ticking exercise that aims to tackle each issue on its own. 

Inclusion can seem amorphous, but truly inclusive organisations create environments that allow people to bring their whole selves to work, regardless of their sexual orientation, skin colour, neurology or demographic background. And that starts when people feel comfortable enough to talk about it.

Image credit: Steve Johnson/Pexels

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