Twenty years on: the continuing fight for LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace
Twenty years ago Stonewall started talking to employers about what was then a taboo topic: workplace inclusion.
Back then, Section 28 was still in place across England & Wales – while Scotland had repealed it a year earlier (2000). Section 28 was a crushing piece of legislation which banned local authorities and schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’.
It created a culture of fear and shame around LGBT+ identities which was felt across the whole of society, including in workplaces across the country.
In 2005, we created our Workplace Equality Index, and gradually, companies began to talk publicly about the importance of inclusion. Now, through our Diversity Champions Programme, we work with over 850 organisations to help them create workplaces where lesbian, gay, bi and trans people can feel welcome and accepted.
Organisations and businesses play an enormous role in driving equality across society. By using their power and influence to proudly support LGBT+ people in their organisations, employers can ensure that their lesbian, gay, bi and trans staff feel welcome and accepted at work.
There have been tremendous strides towards LGBT+ equality in the workplace over the last two decades. One of these was the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010, which provided protection from discrimination across many areas of life, including work, on the basis of protected characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
But despite these developments, Britain’s workplaces are far from perfect. We know from our research that more than a third of LGBT+ staff (35%) have hidden who they are at work for fear of discrimination.
We also found that nearly one in five LGBT+ staff (18%) have been bullied by colleagues because they’re LGBT+, and one in ten black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT+ employees (10%) have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year.
These statistics show just how much work there is still to do before all LGBT+ people feel free to be themselves in their jobs. So, as we celebrate the milestones over the last few decades, it’s also important to ask what more workplaces can do in 2021 to better support their lesbian, gay, bi and trans staff.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to making workplaces inclusive, but there are small steps that every organisation can start with. These can be things like establishing LGBT+ employee networks, which create a space for staff to be themselves and share issues they may be facing.
Celebrating and sharing support for LGBT+ communities throughout the year, during awareness days and months, can also be an effective way of raising awareness and showing LGBT staff that your organisation supports them.
The coronavirus pandemic has also created new and difficult challenges for everyone - particularly LGBT+ communities. Huge numbers of people are currently working from home and LGBT+ people may be living in homes where they cannot be themselves, which can have a huge impact on their mental health.
This means that it’s even more vital that workplaces support LGBT+ staff. Something as simple as organising a virtual get-together can help employees feel more comfortable, knowing that their colleagues are still there for them.
This month is LGBT+ History Month, which provides a great chance to reflect on the huge contribution that LGBT+ people have made to our society throughout history – from Alan Turing to Marsha P. Johnson. It’s an opportunity for organisations to recognise the impact that LGBT+ people continue to make across all industries throughout the country every single day.
As this tumultuous period continues, workplaces have a real opportunity to ensure that their staff are supported - and we will continue to work with them until every lesbian, gay, bi and trans person can be themselves at work.
Katie Budd is head of indices and resources at Stonewall.
February is LGBT History Month in the UK and throughout HR magazine will be providing expert perspectives on how to support LGBT+ diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.
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