Did you know that there are currently 3.6 million people in the UK who identify as homosexual, but how many of them are open about their sexuality in their place of work? How many people to do you know who are truly open about their sexuality with their colleagues and team members?
Probably nowhere near that number quotes above. Certainly in a Harvard Business Review study it was found that 68% of respondents have not come out to everyone at work, whilst other studies show that this number decreases to 46% in the US and 35% in the UK.
What are the rules here?
Frankly there are no set rules when it comes to disclosing sexual orientation in the workplace; it’s ultimately a matter of personal choice and should be entirely based on an individual’s decision and how much of their private lives they choose to share with their colleagues or employees. No one should feel obliged to say anything to anyone if they don’t wish to.
We do believe, however, that businesses have a duty to make their environment as open and inclusive as possible and work towards cultivating an environment of acceptance, equality and equity.
Staff and business leaders alike, are entitled to be private and, by equal measure, entitled to work in an environment in which they feel comfortable enough to be themselves without the fear of discrimination or judgement. As such, we would love to see more businesses who are open and inclusive enough to allow for people to be able to come out and feel supported in doing so.
Advocates are key
The key to ensuring this level of support, in our opinion, is having more advocates at all levels, who live and breath inclusivity. Certainly, role models at the top of the company are tremendously important in both the cultivation of acceptance of the self and from others.
However, I think it is a shared responsibility for anyone working within the team – no matter their background, ethnicity, sexuality or gender- to set an example of inclusivity.
This can be done through encouragement, picking colleagues up on potentially derogatory language, strong anti-discrimination policies, listening to staff and concerted diversity training. This also often leads to a team working together more effectively, and in a more unified manner.
Coming out at work
As news that came out earlier this year about Philip Schofield is testimony to, coming out in the workplace, espeicaly when you are perceived as a public figure or senior leader, is a brave move.
Sadly some of the negative reaction we have seen to the Schofield news though is further proof that we have some way to go yet to achieve true acceptance. But those who do come out and are open about their sexuality like Philip Schofield, do in fact, play a huge role in encouraging others to be more open and serve to shift the debate further on down the road to equality. We still have a long way to go
It’s important to remember that sexual orientation is a legally protected characteristic. Certainly, more and more big businesses are providing workplace protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Whilst this is great, there is still a long way to go, especially for those firms who do not have the large D&I teams to provide support and guidance on best practice.
We know that when employees can bring their true authentic selves to work, they are more productive and engaged. Likewise when they feel safe, they are more likely to feel settled, enjoy their roles and do the best job possible.
This means we all need to do our bit to put procedures and suitable measures in place to offer support and reassurance to team members if they do wish to come out. Likewise, if discrimination is present in a business, the business leader and relevant HR teams, should react to it quickly and effectively and ensure it is tackled head on.
By Hugo Minchin (MBACP), Director, co-founder and counsellor at Talk to the Rainbow, the centre for LGBTQ+ therapeutic excellence based in Bristol.