It’s been 13 years since Section 28 was repealed and discriminating against gay people in the workplace was outlawed in the UK.
The country has come a long way since but for some in the LGBT community work isn’t a place that’s easy to discuss sexuality.
According to Gay in Britain (2013) a quarter (26 per cent) of LGBT workers are still in the closet at work and nearly half (42 per cent) of trans people are not living permanently in their preferred gender role stated they are prevented from doing so because they fear it might threaten their employment status according to the report Engendered Penalties (2007).
Exclusion from social circles
“For those who keep their identity hidden, vast amounts of energy and time are spent self-editing and worrying about their colleagues’ perceptions,” says Daniel Smith, Account Manager at LGBT charity Stonewall.
“As a result, output and working relationships can suffer. For those who do decide to be open in the workplace, there exists exclusion from social circles, discrimination – whether direct or indirect – and barriers to career progression.”
At its most basic level, sexuality is irrelevant in the workplace. However work can be a great and easy way to make new friends though so revealing some of our personal lives is a way to make connections with colleagues.
“For those who do choose to disclose, there can be substantial benefits to working relationships and productivity; we know that people perform better when they can be themselves,” says Daniel.
No right or wrong answer
You don’t need to wave a rainbow flag to tell your colleagues you’re gay though. “There’s no right or wrong answer to coming out in the workplace. However, it’s a good idea to reflect about what you want to say, as well as considering how people might react,” explains Daniel.
“Take some time to also think about what mechanisms of support exist around you, within and outside of your workplace. Perhaps begin by telling those you trust the most and ask for their support.”
Employers obligated to ensure a non-discriminatory working environment
Employers are also legally obliged to create a safe working environment free from discrimination. It’s simple for employers to create a more inclusive workplace too.
“There are a number of simple, practical steps employers can take to begin to make their workplaces inclusive. As a starting point, you need to understand whether your workforce reflects the wider community through monitoring, as well as their experiences,” advises Daniel.
“Understanding your workforce can help you to introduce and inform the nature of initiatives such as employee network groups and targeted development programmes for LGBT staff. Of course, inclusive policies and explicit commitment from senior management need to run alongside these – and with all these actions, visibility is key.”
Always remember your personal life is personal though and you should only talk about your sexuality if you feel comfortable to do so as Daniel adds, “Coming out in your place of work is a personal choice though, and nobody should be pressured into doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable.”