Just the job?: Stonewall on workplace biphobia

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“Thirty-seven percent of bi women are not out at work”

Sixty per cent of bi men and 37% of bi women are not out to any of their colleagues, compared to 15% of gay men and 6% of lesbians. Stonewall explains how the charity is trying to help tackle biphobia at work.

It’s a charge often made by bi activists that many organisations like Stonewall often just pay lip service to bisexual issues, not understanding the distinct differences and experiences that bisexual people have. It’s true, many organisations are still developing their work with bisexual people. But why is there such a difference between how well lesbians’ and gay men’s needs are understood and how those of bisexual people are?

In the early 2000s, the legal landscape started changing as lesbian, gay and bisexual people began to receive equal treatment at work under the law. The immediate impact on employers was simple, the legislation grouped lesbian, gay and bisexual people together – and that was reflected in how employers and businesses responded.

Many employers took immediate steps to tackle cultural problems around workplace bullying. Employee network groups were established to support lesbian, gay and bisexual staff. At that time there was little awareness of the nuances separating the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers but we’ve since learned that differences exist between all three.

Our work with major employers across Britain showed that early network groups were very popular. But there was a problem, they were mainly organised and run as evening drinks receptions and there was little gender diversity. As it became clear that women weren’t engaging with network groups, employers asked them directly why. This often led to changes in governance with many being led by male and female co-chairs. The result? Group meetings started being held during the working day as well, allowing people those who didn’t want to socialise in gay bars or those with childcare and family commitments to attend. The number of women participating increased. In 2014, it’s clear through submissions to our Workplace Equality Index that the best and most effective network groups now also have leaders who can represent bisexual people, as well as lesbians and gay men.

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One to wear by the water cooler?

While lesbians, gay and bisexual people share some experiences there are also tensions, sometimes because gay men and lesbians are outright hostile towards bisexual people. While some gay people are quick to highlight and challenge homophobia they apply a different set of standards to biphobia, with comments like “You’re not bi, you’re just too scared to say you’re gay” and “Bisexuals are just greedy” going unchallenged – or actually being said – by them. Unsurprisingly this attitude deters bisexual people from accessing their own network, leaving them isolated. YouGov polling for Stonewall found that 60 per cent of bi men and 37 per cent of bi women were not out to any of their colleagues, compared to 15 per cent of gay men and six per cent of lesbians. Given that people perform better when they can be themselves, the personal impact on bisexual people is enormous, not to mention on the toll it takes on their productivity, as people focus on avoiding being identified as bisexual rather than straight or gay.

So what is Stonewall doing? We’re listening and learning. Earlier this year we welcomed bisexual role models on to the stage at our annual Workplace Conference in London, to share their experiences about being out at work. In June we presented a session on bisexuality in the workplace at BiCon. Our staff underwent specific bisexuality training to improve our organisational understanding of the issues. At the various Prides we’ve been able to attend our staff proudly wore the “Some People Are Bi. Get Over It!” t-shirt.

For Bi Visibility Day (23rd September) we’ve sent out a message to our corporate partners to encourage them to show their support for the day and to stamp out biphobia wherever it occurs. On the day we’ll talk directly to all our supporters to remind them why it’s a key date to observe. We’ll also profile stories from bisexual people on our site to mark the day. And – most importantly – we’ll focus on representing bi issues far more across all the work we do, whether it’s at home, at school or at work.

At Stonewall we’re as much on this journey as anyone, and we welcome feedback when we get it wrong – and when we get it right! So follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and join us as Stonewall grows to make sure we’re there for the B as well as the L and G.

www.stonewall.org.uk

 

Main photo © Sharyn Morrow, licensed for use under Creative Commons

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Charlotte Dingle

Charlotte 'Lottie' Dingle is Biscuit's founding editor. When she's not running freelancing for a diverse bunch of clients ranging from Cosmo to Occupy, she enjoys teaching life drawing, discussing life/the universe/everything with her beloved (but smelly) 22-year-old cat, writing flash fiction for her MA course, getting pretentious tattoos, listening to folk music, creating surrealist art, trying to change the world and drinking red wine. Oh, and My Little Pony. Don't forget My Little Pony. Her favourite biscuits are cream crackers (do they count as biscuits?).

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