Heard the one about the gay footballer coming out at the World Cup?
Even in 2018, the bravery required to be the first man to be openly gay in this global arena, supersedes the bravery required to face down a goalkeeper in a penalty shoot out, not to mention on top of it. We haven’t yet been treated to knowing the true identity of this superman. I’m hopeful that the amazing work being done by Stonewall, Gay Footballers Supporters Network and Pride in Football will mean we soon do, at least here in the UK. I for one can’t wait until the WAGs become WAGAHABs.
People often tell me ‘but that’s just male football – everyone else is pretty open in workplaces these days aren’t they? We’ve got the rainbow flag in our reception, our CFO is a lesbian!’
We are often in a bubble about this topic, if we’re fortunate enough to live in a society where the rainbow flag is waved annually through our streets, usually accompanied by vibrant partying and smiling police officers, we can often be lulled into a false sense that equality has been achieved, certainly in the workplace.
When commenting on a 2018 UK workplace study, Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive, Stonewall, said: “The fact that more than a third (35%) of LGBT employees have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination shows that change is still very much needed”.
In the US, the figure rises to 50% of people who identify as LGBT who aren’t currently open to their colleagues at work, a study by Human Rights Campaign in June 2018. Why?:
38% hid their sexuality because of the possibility of being stereotyped
36% didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable
31% worried about losing connections or relationships with co-workers
“Creating a workplace that accepts everyone isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. When staff feel comfortable and happy, they will perform much better than if they’re having to hide who they are” says Hunt.
So let’s look at those reasons for remaining hidden. Stereotyping, other people’s feelings, losing relationships; arguably the context into which that person is coming out, limits their ability to do so. Essentially, they are not driven by some deep need to remain private about their lives but the surrounding culture prohibits them.
We all contribute to workplace cultures, so how can we help lift the authenticity tax for people who identify as LGBT?
According to a study by TUC in conjunction with Stonewall 62% of respondents have heard homophobic or transphobic remarks or jokes directed to others at work, while 28% have had such comments directed at them.
So maybe, during this Pride month, that’s a good place to start:
1. Call it out. Challenge or at the very least stop the complicit laugh-along if you hear homophobic or transphobic remarks in your workplace. We all have a responsibility to create an inclusive culture at work.
2. Label me I dare you. Watch for use of stereotyping associated with LGBT people, often a result of unconscious bias, but controllable if you’re attuned to it.
3. I’m with you. Create spaces where you talk freely about LGBT people you know and respect. Don’t make the fact that they are LGBT the focus, “Hey I know a gay person!” but simply showing that you have gay friends and/or family members that you love for a variety of reasons will demonstrate that being open with you is a safe space, the need to hide is lessened – particularly relevant if you are a leader within a organisation.
4. Fly the flag. While the focus is and always will be to make LGBT people visible, our rights heard and respected, this is a flag for everyone to gather around – on pride week and everyday in the workplace. Because unlike the World Cup, there are only winners when it comes to better workplace inclusion.