In case you missed it, Lesbian Visibility Week began on the 20th of April and ended on the 26th of April, aka Lesbian Visibility Day. Its aim was to show solidarity with every woman within the LGBTQI+ community by celebrating lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and queer women, including women of colour, those with disabilities, and those who experience oppression or discrimination because of their intersectionality. For allies and everyone else, it was also a chance to educate ourselves on the misinformation, lack of representation, and oppression that still exists for those who identify as a lesbian.
Due to the coronavirus, this year’s Stonewall-supported event took place digitally, with a series of workshops, panel sessions and seminars that addressed a broad range of issues, such as:
- Being out at work;
- The double-glazed glass ceiling;
- Maternity leave for non-biological LGBTQI partners; and
- Psychological safety at work.
So, what lessons did EqualEngineers learn this year1?
LGBTQI+ women still feel misunderstood and under-supported
Despite the progress being made, many LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex +) employees still feel like they can’t reveal their sexuality at work. In fact, 34% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the UK choose not to disclose their sexuality for fear of homophobia, exclusion or bias – especially when it comes to promotional opportunities.2 A recent Pride Matters survey undertaken by Pride in London, 2018 revealed that gay women are twice as unlikely to be out in the workplace compared to their gay male colleagues. For transgender people, it’s even harder, as the issue is less about their sexuality and more about the widespread lack of understanding when it comes to their identities. It’s something that forces many trans people to leave their place of work in order to undergo transition.
There are layers of invisibility
Ethnicity, religion, and culture – and how they intersect alongside people’s sexual expressions, desires and/or identities – can create identities with added layers of invisibility. This increases when considering older sexual minorities, ethnic minorities, or those with religious affiliations. The nuances of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, and how their multiple identities interact and intersect, give them an entirely unique experience that makes their place in society fraught with its own set of challenges and threats. Up until now, LGBTQI+ communities have focussed on one characteristic without considering the diversity within each identity – something that’s changing through the intersectional feminist movement.
There’s a global lived experience
Homophobia has created barriers to the safety and security of LGBTQI+ groups and educational leaders across the world for a long time. Some lesbian women live in more challenging environments due to their background and diversity, which makes their visibility harder to fight and the right to their freedom of expression a daily battle. Although the levels of invisibility are different, the global lived experience of fighting for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights is a uniting force.
Women’s networks support diversity and inclusion
The need for safe spaces for women is what first highlighted a greater need for diversity and inclusion within organisations. The benefits of female-only groups that support women create more opportunities to do business. Often, services offered by organisations aren’t gender-specific, so having women sitting at the table can be good for business. Women-only networking events offer mentoring and support for LGBTQI+ women, who network differently to men and are often under-represented when it comes to networking events. This engagement offers a diversity of perspective that breeds creativity – an essential element for business innovation.
Psychological safety is key to a healthy workplace
Psychological safety is about creating an environment where people feel able to speak up without fear of discrimination. It helps build effective teams and allows for greater risk-taking when members feel able to admit fault without fear of humiliation.
The 5 pillars for creating psychological safety are3:
Self: Understanding your authenticity. (Your influences, thoughts and behaviours that define one’s self).
Social: How we interact with each other. (Understanding that others have the same journey of ‘self’ as you do).
Collaboration: How we cultivate trust and collaboration with others. (Empowering ourselves through enabling safe spaces, cross-cultural collaboration and effective communication in order to build a solid foundation of team working).
Curiosity: Creating a culture of experimentation, contribution and constructive questioning.
Creativity: Where a culture of new ideas and alternative perspectives are welcome.
Not every work sector has the same levels of discrimination
There are some sectors that promote diversity and inclusion, with companies that are proud to be ‘inclusive employers,’ while other industries have a long way to go on the road to inclusiveness. Where sectors such as healthcare and education are known for their diversity, sectors like engineering and transport must do more to catch up4.
That said, the overall statistics around discrimination in the workplace show a worrying trend5:
- Almost 1 in 5 LGBT staff (18%) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they’re LGBT.
- 1 in 8 trans people (12%) have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year because of being trans.
- 1 in 10 black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT staff (10%) have similarly been physically attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, compared to 3% of white LGBT staff.
Wellbeing comes first!
“You can’t make tea from an empty kettle” – Claire Harvey
There is some great work being done across the UK when it comes to LGBTQI+ rights. That said, there is more to do to ensure those who suffer from poor mental health are supported – regardless of whether it’s because of how they are treated or the lack of opportunities they are given due to how they identify.
Some worrying statistics include5:
- LGBT respondents are less satisfied with their life than the general UK population (rating satisfaction 6.5 on average out of 10 compared with 7.7). Trans respondents had particularly low scores (around 5.4 out of 10).
- More than 2/3 of LGBT respondents said they avoid holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of a negative reaction from others.
- At least 2 in 5 respondents had experienced an incident because they were LGBT, such as verbal harassment or physical violence, in the 12 months preceding the survey. However, more than 9 in 20 of the most serious incidents went unreported, often because respondents thought ‘it happens all the time’.
- 2% of respondents had undergone conversion or reparative therapy in an attempt to ‘cure’ them of being LGBT, and a further 5% had been offered it.
- 24% of respondents had accessed mental health services in the 12 months preceding the survey.
In 2018, the UK government published an LGBT Action Plan to address these findings and continue to fight the barriers LGBT people face when it comes to injustice and discrimination6. We hope the inclusion of QI+ (queer and intersex) identities – which are being recognised and spoken about more – will soon be offered the same considerations as other identities.
A year after the LGBT report was released, significant progress was made on the promises in the report, especially in terms of education and health7. In recent months, there is some uncertainty around the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) after comments made by the new Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss. However, we will await the outcome of any future decisions and continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQI+ identities regardless of their diversity.
If you’d like to keep up with all the latest from EqualEngineers or would like further information about how we can support you or your organisation around diversity and inclusion, visit us here!
- Lesbian Visibility Week. Source article: https://www.lesbianvisibilityweek.com/
- The Guardian: Challenges for LGBT people in the workplace and how to overcome them. Source article: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/lgbt-employees-discrimination-in-the-workplace-talkpoint
- HBR.org. High-Performing Teams need psychological safety. Source article: https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it
- Way Up. Top 5 industries for workforce diversity. Source article: https://www.wayup.com/guide/top-5-industries-for-workforce-diversity/
- Stonewall.org.uk. LGBT Britain Work Report. Source article: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-work-report
- Gov.uk. LGBT survey report. Source article: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/722314/GEO-LGBT-Survey-Report.pdf
- Equalyours.org.uk. LGBT action plan annual progress report. Source article: https://www.equallyours.org.uk/government-equalities-office-report-lgbt-action-plan-annual-progress-2018-to-2019/