Take pride in your workplace: this is how to spot and stop office homophobia

01 June 2018 -

StressedemployeeThis is how to tackle discrimination and promote LGBT rights at work, according to the founder of the National Bullying Helpline

Christine Pratt

Discrimination does not discriminate. The Equality Act of 2010 made it unlawful to treat employees differently on the grounds of sexual orientation – but unfortunately, calls to the National Bullying Helpline citing homophobia still exist.

The 1 June 2018 is PRIDE day – the start of a month of celebrations in recognition of rights for all – including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples. Employers in particular need to do more to embrace equality and promote diversity at work ­– and we can all help.

Legally, individuals do not need to tell anyone their sexual orientation when starting a job: it’s personal information. However, we need to recognise that victimised employees often don’t make formal complaints about harassment or bullying either.

Spotting the signs

A good manager should work closely with their teams so that they can spot subtle changes in behaviour that might suggest that someone is being discriminated against. For example, the performance of a previously competent employee might drop if they are distracted or distressed. We hear frequently of cliques within a department or small business who exclude a colleague or refuse to work with them: this is unacceptable.

Attendance can be a good marker of whether someone is feeling victimised at work. Therefore, sickness absences should be monitored in case they reflect a problem with the team dynamic. There does not need to be a formal complaint from a victim for professional investigations into suspected issues to begin: bystanders including new starters should always be aware that they have their own duty of care to colleagues and can raise their own concerns about homophobia. However, it’s always advisable to make a note of any inappropriate behaviour.

Managing discrimination

To create an open environment in which everyone feels valued at work, we need to hire leaders who have the right skills to manage people, as well as processes. The Chartered Management Institute has recognised the risk of untrained, ‘accidental’ managers to crucial business issues such as diversity. It provides training and resources to recognise potential problems and resolve them.

I have previously dealt with a case where a manager had limited knowledge of employment law: they had inappropriately led investigations into the same-sex relationship of two team members at a charity organisation by interviewing others about their perceptions of the pair. They then made the couple redundant. It was one of the most shocking cases I have seen.

A good manager will know how to remedy conflict. They will ensure policies are open and transparent, and that serious concerns are raised and investigated. That said, we are all responsible for creating a culture of inclusivity: we are all potential targets of unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. What matters is how we act and what steps we take.

Christine Pratt FCMI is the founder of the National Bullying Helpline and director at HR & Diversity Management. To read more on diversity at work visit managers.org.uk/insights

Image: Shutterstock

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