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Bring your true self to work: inclusivity for the LGBT+ community

16 October, 2019

Consider how it feels to tell a deliberate lie. Think about how uncomfortable it becomes to continue lying over a long time period, and the burden it becomes to sustain the untruth. Many LGBT+ people face this situation at work every day.

That’s the thought-provoking way in which Hannah Jepson, a qualified business psychologist and the founder of LGBTed, opened our recent Illuminate dinner on inclusivity for the LGBT+ community. Hannah told us many LGBT+ young people go back into the closet when they enter the world of work due to a fear that they won’t fit in or be accepted. Or, even worse, that their identity will hinder their career progression. The Stonewall and YouGov LGBT in Britain: work report reveals that 58% of LGBT people aged 18 to 24 have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT at work because they were afraid of discrimination.

The freedom to be your authentic self

Our own research appears to confirm that this fear really is affecting confidence. We asked 5,000 students and graduates whether they believe they can pursue any career path they wish. Only 54% of those who identified as LGBT+ answered yes -which means almost half of this group don’t believe they’ll be able to pursue any career path they choose. This is a lower confidence level than any other group – compared to 65% average, 59% who identify as having a disability and 75% from a BAME background who answered yes to this question.

Young people entering the world of work have plenty to think about – not only are they starting a new job, but they’re dealing with being in a working environment for the first time. It’s unfair that they’d also need to worry about hiding their identity and spending valuable mental energy on, for instance, trying to remember the name of the imaginary boyfriend or girlfriend they’ve invented to ‘pass’ as straight.

Everyone works better when they are happy, stress-free and able to bring their true, authentic selves to work every day. Studies show that happy workers are 12% more productive than unhappy employees. An engaged, diverse workforce not only creates health benefits for your team, it’s also good for business. An ideal workplace will be a ‘safe-haven’ where everyone can be themselves and share their identity with colleagues without fear of negative consequences.

Making business culture visible for graduates

So how can we let graduates know where they’ll find such a safe environment? Hannah’s advice is to be intentional about inclusion. Don’t just talk about it – make conscious choices and take clear, visible actions.

A company’s people and culture are the most important factors when choosing a graduate role according to our research – and even more important than average among LGBT+ respondents. So, make sure graduates have the chance to see and experience your culture. Consider inviting candidates and offer-holders to join initiatives and activities before they join the business to help them understand the culture.  Attend LGBT+ events and careers fairs, making sure you’re represented there by strong role models and members of the community who can talk about life in your organisation. If you have a thriving LGBT+ work community or steering group, make sure they are represented well in social media.

Building an inclusive culture

When considering ways to create an inclusive work culture for the LGBT+ community, initiatives we can use sound similar to those we’d put in place to address other diversity & inclusion challenges. But that doesn’t mean ‘treating everyone the same’ or assuming we know what employees will need. It’s vital to listen to the voice of different groups and individuals to understand needs – which may be overlapping, as people may identify with more than one group.

  • Reverse mentoring is a useful way to aid understanding for people in the business who simply don’t know what their colleagues are feeling or experiencing. It can help to give a fresh perspective and to highlight the lived experience of an individual in a specific organisation rather than making generalised assumptions.
  • A strong line-manager relationship is key for happy, engaged employees. Consider training and equipping your line managers so that they’re ready to have open conversations, be supportive and listen to their teams’ concerns.
  • When it comes to inclusion, knowing the language and terminology to use is often a barrier. Introduce training and let people know it’s ok to be unsure and to ask about the right language to use.
  • We will all experience unconscious bias but knowing how to mitigate its effects in your business practices, such as recruitment, is key. Some businesses are running regular inclusive practice workshops for HR teams and managers.
  • Make sure you collect, track and use data to see how well you’re doing against your inclusion objectives. If you create and promote a safe, inclusive culture, employees are more likely to declare their sexual identity – and other personal information – when asked, and you’ll be more equipped to support your team.

A 2017 Ipsos MORI study found that, in the UK, Generation Z are 8% less likely to identify as exclusively straight than Millennials. 10% of respondents to our own survey among Bright Network members identified as LGBT+ – up on last year.

Perhaps these are encouraging signs that we do live in a more inclusive culture where it’s OK to be yourself. It’s clear from our research that inclusivity initiatives have made a difference in confidence for other demographics – notably among BAME students. We think it’s time for the LGBT+ community to receive the same level of support.