August 5, 2016

Does disclosing your sexuality at work cause discrimination?

Three quarters of lesbian and bisexual women conceal their sexual orientation when at work. Research conducted by the RBS-sponsored British LGBT Awards earlier this year revealed that a significant number of lesbian and bisexual women are not out at work.

The research, which comprised a poll of more than 1,200 women, found that 73% were not out to all their colleagues and external contacts. Half were not out beyond their closest colleagues. And those that are open about their sexual orientation at work? Two in three say they have been on the receiving end of a negative experience.

Experts are concerned that women are concealing their sexuality because they fear revealing it will cause problems for them and will hinder their career prospects.

Almost nine in 10 of those women who participated in the poll said it would help if there were more visible lesbian and bisexual women in senior roles. As a result of this finding, the British LGBT Awards have said they will run a campaign to champion the visibility of those lesbian and bisexual women who hold senior positions.

This latest report is by no means the only bit of research to expose the fact that lesbian and bisexual women face greater hurdles in the workplace. A national study into the workplace experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) employees by Manchester Business School and Plymouth University in 2014 found that LGBs are more than twice as likely to suffer from workplace bullying than their heterosexual colleagues.

The study revealed that one in three lesbians and bisexuals experience workplace bullying and that the bullying behaviour is most likely to be meted out by senior staff.

Lesbian and bisexual women fare worse than gay or bisexual men, reporting higher levels of negative behaviour.

What happens when people are being bullied as a result of their sexuality? One in four did nothing about it and of those who did lodge a formal complaint with their employer, only one in three said that a formal investigation was conducted.

Those involved in the report said formal action needs to be taken to support lesbian, bisexual and gay people in the workplace. “Our study establishes beyond doubt that bullying and discrimination is a common experience for many lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, with LGBs being exposed to intrusive and sexualised behaviour far more frequently than their heterosexual colleagues, as well as being at risk of social exclusion at work,” says Helge Hoel, professor in organisational behaviour at MBS.

Hegel thinks employers and managers need to act on these findings and take complaints seriously. “The most surprising finding is that so many people, colleagues and managers alike, believe it is up to LGBs themselves to put a stop to such unwanted behaviours and set the necessary boundaries, instead of intervening directly when confronted with examples of behaviours that are socially unacceptable.”