In this article, we’ll discuss the differences in power and privilege amongst the LGBT+ community and their colleagues and how this impacts inclusion work.
We heard from the Head of Empowerment at Stonewall, Sarah Campbell, about the work Stonewall has been carrying out as an LGBT+ rights charity.
Stonewall began as a charitable organisation whose purpose was to lobby the government to repeal Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) which stated that a local authority:
“shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
Section 28 was repealed in 2003, and Stonewall have continued campaigning on other legal issues regarding LGBT+ equality such as equalising the age of consent, the right to marry, and equal adoption rights.
Sarah highlighted that whilst legal equality is incredibly important, social equality has to come alongside that to allow LGBT+ people to live their lives to the fullest and be themselves openly and safely.
Sarah defines identity as someone’s innate sense of self and ownership of the components that make up who they are.
Part of the make-up of identity consists of the sex an individual is assigned at birth, then when growing in the world around them, their chosen gender identity, and their sexual/romantic orientation.
The sex assigned at birth is usually male or female, however around 1 in 1500 people are born intersex, meaning they are born with primary and/or secondary characteristics of more than one sex.
In most countries, there isn’t an option to record the birth of an individual as intersex. This leads to “corrective surgeries” which can inhibit those people from expressing their gender identity.
Someone’s gender identity is their innate sense of their own gender and this may or may not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth.
In terms of sexual orientation, this is a person’s emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction (or lack thereof) to another person.
Someone’s identity can also consist of a range of other things, such as:
- Trans status
All of these and more go into making up an individual’s identity, and their sense of self. No one is defined by just one of these categories, but everybody is a nuanced and complex mix of them. Each area of identity will come to the forefront at different times.
LGBT+ Experiences at Work
Sarah discussed how advantages are afforded to people in certain contexts based on specific elements of their identity, and we all experience different types of privilege in different contexts.
Acknowledging these privileges can be challenging and often uncomfortable. However by doing so can help create more inclusive workplaces, by understanding that privileges create power dynamics.
For LGBT+ workers, their gender identity, expression, or sexuality can often work against them. This doesn’t mean they will be disadvantaged at all times and in all scenarios, as other parts of their identity may experience other privileges.
However, the statistics surrounding the LGBT+ experience in the workplace can be quite jarring.
- Almost 1 in 5 LGBT+ people had been the target of negative comments or conduct from colleagues in the past year.
- Almost 1 in 5 LGBT+ employees who were black, Asian or another minority ethnic group said they didn’t get a promotion they were put forward forto because they were LGBT+.
- Around 2 in 5 bisexual people weren’t out to anyone at work about their sexual orientation.
- 1 in 8 trans people had been physically attacked by a colleague or customer in the last year.
- 1 in 3 trans people had been the target of negative comments or conduct from colleagues.
- Almost 1 in 3 non-binary people don’t feel able to wear work attire representing their gender expression.
Sarah also detailed how stereotypes and assumptions can seriously impact people’s ability to feel comfortable and happy in their workplace.
She outlined several recurring stereotypes Stonewall have found in their work:
- People of colour are less likely to accept their children coming out
- LGBT+ people no longer face discrimination in the UK
- It’s quick and simple to change your gender marker on official documents
- Non-binary people all look androgynous
- To be bisexual you have to have been in relationships with people of more than one gender
- If you’re transgender you will have had surgery
- People’s experience of LGBT is defined by where they’re from
- Disabled people don’t have a sexual orientation
Understanding where these stereotypes come from and challenging them helps to have less reductive conversations that can pigeonhole LGBT+ issues.
From Equality to Equity
Part of the work Stonewall are carrying out emphasises the importance of differentiating equality and equity.
As everyone is starting from different places, each individual needs different support and support levels in order to succeed. If privilege is structural, ideas on how to enable fairness and success must change too.
Focussing on equality means providing everyone with the same support. Whereas equity aims to eliminate barriers to success and concentrate on enabling equity of outcome.
A simple metaphor Sarah gave was that she wears glasses because she is visually impaired.
If everyone was treated equally, either everyone would have to wear glasses or no one could. Whereas enabling equity means understanding different needs, and aiming for an equal outcome. In this simplified example, that means everyone being able to see properly.
Trying to level the playing field, particularly along the lines of protected characteristics, and understanding each of these will require different approaches, is fundamental to Stonewall’s advice on creating a more equal workplace.
In the above chart, Sarah explains how actions can be separated into positive, negative, active, and passive behaviours.
It’s important to understand that if you are in a position of privilege, statements such as “I treat everyone the same” are in essence positive, but can ultimately ignore fundamental issues that exist.
In order to create a more diverse and inclusive workspace, Sarah maintains that using the power you have as a leader should translate into being a visible and active ally to the LGBT+ demographic in your workforce.
To achieve this, employers should ensure that there is both personal and organisational-wide commitment to LGBT+ equality alongside tackling all forms of oppression and abuse.
Creating a strong and codified link between LGBT+ network groups within the organisation can also be a big help, as well as ensuring the internal structures within the company support the most marginalised members of the workforce.
When it comes to events and workshops, making sure that panellists and speakers are representative of the entire community, as well as breaking down demographic data by identities can help share and understand the experiences of all staff.
 Gov.uk. 1988. The Local Government Act: Section 28
 Campbell, Sarah. 2021. Head of Empowerment, Stonewall. How Power and Privilege Shape LGBTQ+ Inclusion Work.
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