No one should be shocked that Totaljobs’ research reveals 71% of LGBTQ+ workers feel under pressure to change how they act when being interviewed or starting a new job.
When you’ve experienced prejudice in previous jobs, it leads to heightened self-consciousness that most people never consider.
When hate crime continues to rise, and intolerance persists in the media, it’s hard not to be conscious of how you present yourself when you’re concerned that someone might treat you differently based solely on your mannerisms, appearance, sexuality or gender.
It certainly won’t come as a surprise to LGBTQ+ people living in the UK that many parts of our community continue to censor who they are in the workplace.
It can be a hostile environment for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the heteronormative ideals that people continue to follow blindly.
It can be daunting when conversations both in the office and in less formal settings are set out in such a narrow manner.
A conversation about what you got up to on the weekend suddenly descends into you being asked who the ‘man’ is in your relationship. Or when someone who doesn’t know your sexuality openly says something homophobic and you’re left feeling helpless and angry.
The role of allies
71% of those who took part in the survey agree that people should stick up for communities such as the LGBTQ+ community, women and those with a disability, yet only 49% say they would actively advocate for the rights of such a community at work, which paints a sorry story for the most marginalised groups in the workplace.
This is the sort of behaviour that workplaces have to challenge if they want to retain LGBTQ+ employees. It has to be an environment where employees feel empowered enough to stick their head above the parapet.
It can’t just be LGBTQ+ people that are passionate about moving forward – we rely on allies to complement and support our work to foster a more inclusive environment.
Pride in London’s own research, released earlier this year, showed that just 3% of cisgender straight people said tolerance for people of different sexuality or gender identity was important to them, compared to 44% of the LGBTQ+ community.
So it is clear that cisgender straight people still need to be convinced of the task ahead and why it’s so important for all of us, not just those in the LGBTQ+ community.
The Pride Matters report also revealed that just 40% of cisgender straight people agree with the statement “It is harder for LGBTQ+ people to be their true selves than it is for straight people” – which suggests that a large number of people do not agree.
However, it goes much deeper than just how employees are treated by their colleagues. It also comes down to the culture set out by the company or organisation you work for.
Often, LGBTQ+ networks are seen as an opportunity to bring LGBTQ+ employees together for more informal gatherings.
But LGBTQ+ networks can also have a more formal role in an organisation. They can and should have a role in setting out policy, influencing the organisation’s strategic objectives and delivering training at every level.
It’s incumbent on everyone to ensure that LGBTQ+ workers feel comfortable at work, not just because it’s the right thing to do but also because poor well-being affects productivity and in turn affects what staff can contribute to the organisation.
There is no doubt that the legislation underpinning the rights of LGBTQ+ people has changed attitudes and forced employers to think differently, but you’d be wrong to think the impact was so profound that the conversation was over.
Employers must continue to be proactive in their approach, tackling behaviour from the most overt prejudice to the smaller microaggressions that are often justified by ignorance. They must provide a space for development and learning.