Bi workers falling behind trans staff?

At the end of January Stonewall presented its annual list of the UK’s top employers for LGBT staff.  All the headlines were about how the Ministry of Defence had topped the league this time, but for me the interesting bits were elsewhere in the report.

The “Workplace Equality Index” is one of Stonewall’s key programmes these days, as the big-ticket legal battles for lesbian and gay equality it was set up to fight have – outside Northern Ireland at least – been won.

As part of the process, they ask staff what they think about being LGBT in their workplaces.  Some 60,000 workers were interviewed this time – most of them straight and cisgender.

Just 11 per cent of respondents this year believed there are bi role models at work; 19 per cent saw trans role models, 42 per cent lesbian role models and 53 per cent gay male role models at work.  In turn, bi people were far less likely to be out to work colleagues – a common theme in past such research.  Stonewall’s survey only goes to organisations that are actively engaged with an LGBT equality programme through the equality index.  Yet even with these more progressive employers just 12% of bi staff were out, compared to 23% of lesbians and 33% of gay men.

So it seems bis are still less likely to be happily out at work, even where there are active LGBT networks in the workplace.  A welcome leap forward on trans visibility has left bis lagging.

Bisexual people feeling less included in LGB or LGBT spaces is nothing new, though there is an encouraging trend to address it in workplace staff networks.  There was a tendency when many organisations shifted from “LG” to “LGB” or “LGBT” to welcome the “gay side” of bisexual people – which of course we don’t have, any more than an English person is just a Welsh side and a Scottish side put together. We’re entirely bisexual.

Two other figures leapt out at me.  The first was that workers facing overlapping challenges – bi and trans, bi and BAME, bi and disabled – felt only around half as comfortable being out at work.  The second that of the 60,000 staff questioned, around 600 were out as trans.  Three in five of those didn’t identify with a binary gender identity: gender diversity awareness and willingness to identify seems to have come on a long and welcome way in the last few years.

6 Employee Network Suggestions

– Understand that you don’t start with a clean slate: for example Unison’s LGBT group spent several years getting from the initial change from LG to LGBT to having a thriving bi network, because they had to undo the effects of past bi exclusion.  It paid off but it took time.
– Collaborate with local bi organisations around the country. There’s a list of them in the back of every issue of BCN.
– Put Bi Visibility Day (September 23rd) squarely on your activity plan for the year alongside events like Trans Day Of Remembrance.
– Be conscious about language; it’s easy to slip from “LGBT” into “gay”, yet it sends a message about which parts of the LGBT communities are welcome and the centre of your attention.
– Assume some of your staff are bisexual. Including some of the people who you’ve read as being gay or straight.
– Outreach work such as advertising in bi press (here in Bi Community News), and sponsoring or otherwise supporting events like BiCon or Bi Visibility Day celebrations.