Being gay in a straight world
I’ll start this off by saying it’s exhausting. No really it is. Imagine, if you can, having to constantly ‘come out the closet’ to every single person you meet for you to be your authentic self. For those who identify as ‘straight’, pretend our world is one where being gay was considered ‘the norm’. You would spend every day having to drop into conversation about your partner of an opposite sex, having other straight friends, going to a straight bar at the weekend and going to a ‘straight wedding’ or even just stating that you’re straight.
Can you see how tiring it is? And yet that is the reality for every single LGBT person.
Now imagine that you have another characteristic that you can’t hide. Let’s say you’re either a woman or black and fall into the LGBT community too. It’s well documented about the hurdles faced for these groups such as gender pay gap and social mobility challenges. No wonder why 26% of LGBT people hide their sexuality in the workplace.
Diversity & inclusion is one of the hottest topics that almost every single organisation talks about and yet in some companies, it is looked at as a box ticking exercise whilst others are considered leaders in the field. One of the focuses is around gender parity within the workplace, especially regarding equal pay and career development for women, but what about the lesbian and bisexual women workforce in all organisations?
Businesses in both the public and private sector have instigated initiatives that each minority group has a policy or procedure to some degree to drive an inclusive culture however do these policies end up being a negative influence on other minority groups?
Women continue to be penalised with lower pay and fewer promotions, and for our Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) female workforce, there are additional challenges to their careers. Identifying, as one minority group is tough enough, but having to put your hand up again to ‘come out’ as LGB and face further hurdles means the UK’s workforce is prioritising their gender status over sexual orientation.
“Businesses in both the public and private sector have instigated initiatives that each minority group has a policy or procedure to some degree to drive an inclusive culture however do these policies end up being a negative influence on other minority groups?”
In a survey by Stonewall in 2008, ‘all participants felt that being a lesbian was something that they had to think about in relation to their work’. The majority felt that ‘being a woman was of greater importance and significance to their experience of the workplace’. Admittedly, the survey is 8 years out of date, however considering last year the UK slipped down to 20th place in terms of gender equality, I cannot imagine that this sentiment has changed too drastically.
Those organisations who are more advanced in their D&I strategy talk about ‘masking’ or ‘covering’, a term which means the percentage of themselves that a person brings to work. An example of this would be President Franklin Roosevelt who ensured he was seated behind a table before his Cabinet entered. He was not hiding his disability, as everyone knew he was in a wheelchair however, he was covering, to ensure his disability was in the background.
“For those who identify to multiple diversity characteristics, some are choosing to cover particular parts of themselves in a belief their career will be limited.”
For those who identify to multiple diversity characteristics, some are choosing to cover particular parts of themselves in a belief their career will be limited. Data from a 2016 survey by LBWomen.org states a huge 73% of women are not completely out in all aspects of work and almost 56% saying it is either difficult or very difficult to be openly LGB in the working environment. The biggest challenges faced are ensuring the right support is there for those who cover multiple attributes in diversity. It is common knowledge that women are significantly under-represented in senior positions, and there is an even bigger absence of female senior LGB role models. People with multiple characteristics are finding they have to attend differing groups to get the support for each component part of their lives. There is a trend that people are grouped together based upon what they identify as. Men run most of the networking events and the majority of LGBT role models also are men, yet 84% of LGB women from the survey said that by having more role models in senior positions they can identify with, the more benefit they would get from it.
So what do we do about it?
Well, as with all D&I areas, no one is doing it 100% correctly otherwise it wouldn’t be as such a hot topic as it is but it’s important to acknowledge intersectionality. We have seen this before in history where two unlikely communities facing aversion created an alliance of solidarity because of the similarities of what their struggles were going through. For those who have not heard of the activists, LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) were immortalised in the film Pride in 2014. Whilst leaders need to be aware and other groups to champion minorities within minorities, LGB women also need to make get involved more to drive change forward.
For further information on how to support someone in your life who is LGBT, or if you want to become an LGBT Ally, please check out EY’s ‘Making It Real’ micro-site.
All views are my own and not a reflection of my employer.
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