Now is a more important time than ever to be a visible ally to LGBTQ people in the workplace. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation continues to take place, often with disastrous ramifications for individuals and businesses. With the majority of workers currently working from home or on furlough leave as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of isolation and anxiety are widespread and indiscriminate. Mental health issues are particularly prevalent. Now is the time for employees, particularly managers and senior executives, to actively show support for all who might be vulnerable. The needs of the LGBTQ community at this time must not be forgotten.
Employment is insecure for many individuals as a result of this current crisis. Many workers are losing their jobs. Some LGBTQ people are being forced to move back into the family home, which can be an unsafe hostile environment, emphasising feelings of isolation and loneliness. Many of us are feeling isolated as a result of the current pandemic. However, given that the LGBTQ community is a minority in society, the impact of isolation is especially acute. As the community becomes spread further apart, this can emphasise the feeling of ‘difference’ and marginalisation.
Discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is not yet a thing of the past. According to the TUC report on LGBT+ workers’ experiences of harassment and discrimination 36% of LGBT workers have been harassed or bullied at work. The need to extinguish discrimination must not be forgotten during the current COVID-19 remote working world.
Research by Stonewall and The Mental Health Foundation show that people identifying as LGBTQ are at higher risk of experiencing a range of mental health problems, including: depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and alcohol and substance misuse. Of those surveyed as part of The LGBT in Britain Health Report, in the last year, 52% experienced depression, 61% experienced anxiety, one in eight LGBT people aged 18-24 attempted to take their own life and 46% of trans people and 31% of LGBT people who aren’t trans thought about taking their own life.
The higher prevalence of mental ill health among members of the LGBTQ community can be attributed to a range of factors such as discrimination, isolation and homophobia. These factors are likely to be accentuated during this current pandemic.
So what can we do to help minimise workplace discrimination, create an inclusive culture and support those feelings isolated and/or suffering from mental health issues?
Be vocal/ visible about your support
- Set up/join a LGBTQ support network/allies group and continue to promote it during and after lockdown;
- Listen to people’s experiences;
- Read about LGBTQ issues; and
- Encourage open conversations at work so colleagues don’t feel the need to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Involve your team in inclusive activities and celebrate LGBTQ history and events
- Ensure any workplace socials or activities are inclusive and not geared towards those in heterosexual relationships; and
- Arrange events to openly celebrate the LGBTQ community, such as LGBTQ History month (February each year).
Call out unacceptable behaviour and implement a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination
- Communicate that any derogatory comments or conduct is not permitted; and
- Remind employees that sometimes workplace banter can cross the line and people should give thought as to whether they are causing offense.
Have equality policies and procedures in place and implement them effectively
- Ensure that all your policies are explicitly fully inclusive of LGBTQ people;
- Ensure that any decisions concerning recruitment, promotion, training, dismissal or any other aspect of employment will be based on the needs of the organisation and not on an individual’s sexuality;
- Make it clear that this commitment is something that all employees must adhere to; and
- Encourage an open culture whereby employees who are subject to any discriminatory behaviour are able to raise their complaint with their line manager.
- As above, ensure policies reflect zero tolerance approach towards discrimination.
Implement Equality and unconscious bias training
- Ensure all employees attend training on equality and diversity policies, including LGBTQ issues and unconscious bias;
- Managers in particular should implement equality policies and an inclusive culture. Attend training to ensure you recognise the importance of an inclusive workplace; and
- Run awareness sessions with employees on inclusion, to tackle stigma and misconceptions.
Incorporate gender-neutral language
- Ensure your policies and procedures, precedents and internal and external communication include gender neutral language, avoiding bias towards a particular sex or social gender.
Ensure senior support
- Making certain your senior leaders actively communicate their support for LGBTQ inclusion sends a positive message of acceptance and creates senior role models for all across your organisation.
Nobody should be treated less favourably as a result of their sexuality, either in the workplace or elsewhere. However, the problem persists and the issues are heightened during this crisis. Let’s all work together to visibly demonstrate our support for the LGBTQ community and call out intolerance. Together we can ensure that those who are unsupportive of our friends fade away from society, rapidly becoming a distant memory.
About the author
Moira is a senior associate in our employment law team, she is an Ally and member of our Diversity and Inclusion group at Kingsley Napley. Moira is also the chair of our internal KN Families Network, which provides support and guidance to parents and carers within the firm.