Last month Union leaders warned government not to ignore workplace discrimination and harassment against LGBT workers. Their research echoed much of the existing data showcasing that LGBT+ individuals are more likely to be harassed in the workplace, yet are still less likely to report harassment. There are clear benefits to reporting harassment, but the responsibility is on the employer to ensure LGBT safety and empower employees to speak up when something isn’t right.
This blog looks at the reasons why workplace harassment against LGBT+ employees goes unreported, and what team leaders can do to create safer environments for reporting at work.
The reality of LGBT+ harassment in the workplace
The data isn’t new, but it is still staggering. There are higher rates of harassment experienced by the LGBT+ community than by their cis-gender and heterosexual counterparts. Data from the TUC showed that:
- Nearly two in five LGBT workers have been harassed or discriminated against by a colleague.
- A quarter of LGBT workers have been discriminated against by their manager, and around one in seven by a client or patient.
- Nearly half of all trans workers have experienced bullying or harassment at work.
- Seven in ten LGBT workers have experienced sexual harassment at work.
The reality shows that much is yet to change in the space of LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace. However, search for any blog on diversity and LGBT+ inclusion and you’ll see these numbers reflected back to you.
So why must we keep banging the same drum? Why do these numbers not seem to shift? How do we actually start to change things so that people can start feeling and being safe at work regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity?
Why we’re not seeing enough change in LGBT+ workplace inclusion
We know that inclusion and diversity in business improves performance, retention, profit and performance. We also know from multiple studies that having a more inclusive workplace where you feel safe to be yourself can have positive effects on mental health and satisfaction at work. So if progress is better for business, and better for people, then what’s causing delay?
Change takes time, and the progress we’ve seen to LGBT equality in workplaces and within wider society is worth celebrating. LGBT+ people have rights to marry, to adopt, to have their lives normalised within our education system.
However, we’re still on a journey. A study by Ipsos Mori (2020) showed that Britons acknowledge that LGBT+ harassment is still experienced by most LGBT+ people. In spite of this the data also showed that a quarter (25%) believe LGBT+ rights have gone as far as they should and one in five (18%) think LGBT+ rights have gone too far in Britain.
Every individual has a role to play in getting us along this road. In the workplace; employers need to ensure that anti-harassment policies are in place to protect their LGBT+ employees, they need to follow through with repercussions on individuals who harass others.
Team members have the responsibility of acknowledging how to include and support LGBT+ employees, and to step up to use their privilege to support their colleagues. LGBT+ employees need to feel safe to speak up and to utilise the support systems in place for them when they feel empowered to do so.
Why LGBT+ employees might not feel safe to report harassment
There could be many reasons why LGBT+ employees that experience harassment choose not to speak up:
Many LGBT+ people are not out at work, in fact more than a third of employees (35%) have hidden their orientation at work for fear of discrimination. If an LGBT+ identifying individual experiences of witnesses targeted harassment, they could be less likely to talk about the events if they feel they will need to disclose their sexual orientation within the process. If your company culture lacks inclusivity, you’re less likely to hear about unacceptable behaviour, in turn preventing you from developing an inclusive culture.
It can also be difficult for LGBT+ people to understand that their experiences constitute harassment. Language can often excuse or diminish experiences, such as defining acts as ‘banter’, employees being ‘used to it’, or thinking that it’s ‘just the way things go’. Being unable to identify experiences, or not understanding their rights can create further barriers to speaking up. The normality of homophobic harassment, intrusive questioning, and ‘othering’ of LGBT+ people means that for many it becomes difficult to separate authentic curiosity from harassment.
Fear of repercussion or backlash could create further barriers to speaking up about harassment. This might seem obvious, but it needs to be deeply considered when establishing policies and support networks for LGBT+ employees. How will reporting parties be safeguarded from reported parties or their peers and wider working community?
Fear of repercussion can be fuelled by the stigmas and misconceptions of the LGBTQ+ community, for example the old tropes about gay men being less in control of their emotions, and derogatory language used against men who are brave enough to speak up about harassment. All of this can play into an individual’s choice not to report misconduct.
What can you do to encourage LGBT+ employees to speak up about harassment and misconduct
Challenging harassment in the workplace makes business more successful, makes employees happier and more motivated, and can prevent serious or legal issues from arising, which can have financial repercussions. If you’d like to find out more about the risk to your company, you can do so here.
Here are some things you can do to encourage LGBT+ employees to speak up about harassment, to ensure they feel safe and secure doing so, and most importantly, to prevent bad behaviour happening in the first place:
- Offer an anonymous reporting platform
Anonymous reporting can provide LGBT+ employees with the confidence to speak up about harassment without having to factor in potential barriers.
The safety this can provide could be the difference between reporting and choosing to suffer through harassment in silence.
Anonymous reporting can also provide useful data to employers about the behaviours and cultures that exist in their organisation. With this information employers can take further action such as:
- Increasing training to encourage positive and inclusive behaviours
- Seeking external support from specialists in LGBT+ inclusion to educate your team on areas that you may not be experienced in. This targeted support can help you to remove unconscious biases from your processes and shine a light on any blind spots that you may have
- Ensuring employees take reports seriously so that people feel comfortable speaking up and can genuinely believe that inappropriate behaviour will be challenged
- Ensuring that policies and processes are fit for purpose, creating consistency from policy through to action. Following through with your promises to support people means that victim-survivors have confidence in the process.
Taking this action can help to improve your culture for all staff, not just LGBT+ individuals. When you take a more inclusive approach to creating change, you ensure that all members of your community are supported, and everyone is able to benefit.