Does love win at work? Reflecting on progress towards LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace

Blog posts

28 Jun 2023

Billy Campbell

Billy Campbell, Research Officer

Pride month is jam-packed with colourful parades, an abundance of rainbow flags, the spotlighting of queer talent, and an overall celebration of LGBTQ+ identities. Rightly so, progress towards equality has come a long way, and it deserves to be celebrated. That said, it’s easy to get caught up in the joy of Pride month and lose sight of the journey still ahead of us, in order to achieve full equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. 

As Pride month draws to a close we are presented with a good opportunity to both reflect on the positive progress made towards improving LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, and remind ourselves how LGBTQ+ employees can be better welcomed and supported at work.

Following the World Health Organisation’s declassification of same-sex attraction as a mental illness in 1992, a number of UK employment tribunals regarding unfair dismissal due to sexual orientation and gender identity were escalated to European Courts. Subsequently, the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 and the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 were enacted and became the first protections for LGBTQ+ employees from direct or indirect harassment, victimisation or discrimination in all aspects of employment.

Later, in 2010, over 100 anti-discrimination legislations and multiple Acts of parliament were streamlined to become the Equality Act, which identified nine attributes and classified them as ‘Protected Characteristics’.

With the Equality Act in place and same-sex marriage newly legalised (alongside a raft of other indicators), the UK topped ILGA-Europe’s LGBTQ+ inclusivity index in 2015 with an inclusivity score of 86%. Fast forward to 2023, ILGA-Europe now ranks the UK 17th with an inclusivity score of just 53%. So, what happened?

Well, the changing narrative around LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion observed globally (particularly around gender) has undeniably made its way to UK shores. ILGA-Europe collated evidence on the changing discourse in the UK in their 2023 Annual Review, supporting existing academic and third sector research.

Through analysis of over 3000 survey responses in 2021, Stonewall found that LGBTQ+ employees in Britain are still more likely to experience harassment, victimisation and discrimination compared to their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts during all stages of the employee lifecycle. The survey findings include:

■    While searching for work, 18% of respondents to Stonewall’s survey said they had experienced discrimination at application and/or interview.

■    While in work, 10% felt that their LGBTQ+ identity (rising to 24% for trans respondents) prohibited them from progressing in their role.

■    Minority ethnic, disabled and trans individuals were most likely to report that they had lost a job due to their LGBTQ+ identity.

Nearly one in five LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing negative conduct or comments from a colleague and one in eight trans employees had been physically attacked by colleagues or customers because of their gender identity. Reports of these experiences increased where intersectional identities were present, e.g.:

■    One in four disabled LGBTQ+ employees had experienced negative conduct or received negative comments related to their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. 

■    10% of minority ethnic LGBTQ+ employees reported being physically attacked by customers or colleagues, compared with just 3% of white LGBTQ+ employees.

Over a third of respondents (and over a half of trans employees specifically) reported disguising their LGBTQ+ identity at work due to fear of discrimination, and 18% of LGB+, 26% of trans, and 37% of non-binary employees reported not being ‘out’ at work. Perhaps most concerningly, 12% of LGBTQ+ employees were encouraged by colleagues to hide their LGBTQ+ identity - this again, more than doubled for trans employees.

Three in five respondents agreed that their workplace had appropriate policies in place to protect LGBTQ+ employees, however fewer than half felt policies adequately protected trans employees. Further, 12% of LGB+ respondents shared that they wouldn’t feel comfortable reporting homophobic or biphobic bullying, rising to 20% for trans employees regarding transphobic bullying.

Given these experiences, there is potential for further progress to be inhibited. In order to better support inclusion at work, employers should consider the following approaches:

■    Develop clear, inclusive policies to support LGBTQ+ inclusion, accompanied by clear steps to be taken in instances where homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic behaviour is displayed. Also communicate to staff the correct channels for reporting such behaviour.

■    Implement organisation-wide diversity and inclusion training to educate employees at all levels on the importance of an inclusive workplace. Include specific training for line managers around supporting direct reports who identify as LGBTQ+.

■    Communicate commitment to inclusivity within job adverts to encourage applicant diversity, train recruitment teams to understand the stages within the recruitment process where discrimination can occur.

■    Monitor workforce diversity at all levels to understand where LGBTQ+ applicants and employees might be experiencing poorer access to opportunity or progression. 

■    Celebrate LGBTQ+ talent within organisations to support the generation of LGBTQ+ role models for newer and younger employees.

Equality is something to strive for, and while not something that will happen overnight, by ensuring these steps are being taken, as well as others outlined by Stonewall and similar organisations, employers can ensure they are working towards building the confidence and trust of their employees, and developing an inclusive environment for their staff.


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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.