|This post is taken from my corporate blog from 2012 – the notes however are just as relevant today|
The 2012 Absolutely Fabulous Olympic Special episode made me laugh when they referenced the LGBT acronym with confusion between BLT, Team GB and “the gays and bisexuals”. Many people don’t know what the LGBT acronym stands for, and those that do often only talk of the G (gay) with little reference to the L (lesbian), B (bisexual) or T (transgender).
Looking at the B in LGBT was a topic at Out and Equal London in 2012. This post focuses on one of the sessions I attended: “How to become a bisexual ally – fostering bisexual-inclusive workplaces”, presented by Stonewall and Pride at Work Canada.
From the outset I was skeptical about the session. As an out bisexual man I’ve not experienced prejudice about being bi and have never considered being out in the workplace as a bisexual male to be career affecting. To me the session felt to be making issues where none existed. Below I share my notes from the session.
Too often the concept of bisexuality is defined by incorrect stereotypical assumptions and beliefs.
The session began by talking about bisexual stereotypes. Some of the stereotypes I have heard first hand and even some jokingly said to me by friends. For example:
- “Bisexuality is just a phase” for straight people “experimenting” or “confused” or to make it “easier to say you are bi than come straight out as being gay”
- “Bisexuals are just greedy” or often “bisexuals want the best of both worlds”
These stereotypes don’t just come from straight people (who may merely not know anything about bisexuality), but often come from the gay and lesbian community (whom in my opinion should know better). While I take light of the comments and laugh them off, it can be easy to see how bisexuals (and particularly those that are not out to colleagues) could be offended, how it could affect their morale and hence result in lower productivity. Stereotypes I hadn’t considered, but which are commonly thought and said amongst the heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities, include:
- “Bisexuals are indecisive” and “bisexuals are indecisive so how can they lead teams”
- “Bisexuals are promiscuous”, leading to “bisexuals are untrustworthy”
- “Bisexuality doesn’t exist”
So what does this have to do with the workplace, and why take the time to blog about the topic?
Stonewall estimate that bisexuals represent 3% of an organisations population. For the company I work for this equates to around 3000 people.
What I find interesting is that while I personally know over 50 people that identify as LGBT that work or have worked with me, I only know 3 whom self identify as bisexual – and only one is open about this in the workplace.
According to Stonewall bisexual staff have consistently lower levels of staff satisfaction in employee surveys and the Workplace Equality Index and many employers assume that the experiences of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are the same. In reality the experiences of bisexual people are different to lesbians and gay men, and indeed the experiences are often different between bisexual men and bisexual women. For example, the level of intrusion with questions for bisexuals are much higher and often about sexual interactions rather than the emotions and relationships with people.
I strongly believe that how much of your personal life you share at work is up to you and that it should be your own decision whether to be out or not – however I believe companies have an obligation (from a welfare, and a “it’s just the right thing to do”, perspective ) to ensure employees can be themselves at work if they want to be without fear of discrimination. From a business perspective Stonewall research shows that people perform better when they can be themselves.
Unconscious bias (often due to a lack of awareness of the challenges and issues) can contribute to the stereotypes. When vocalised (e.g. how easy would it be to say one of the stereotypes when out with colleagues socially without knowing one of them identifies as bisexual) can contribute to bisexual people not feeling comfortable to be out at work and resulting in them spending effort to hide their personal life. These stereotypes contribute to biphobia.
So what tips did I take away
Awareness of talking about bisexuality widened my own knowledge and views. Hopefully by sharing this experience with others we can slowly break down the stereotypes and foster a culture where bisexual people feel more comfortable being out in the workplace. While I still believe any challenges I experience with being bisexual are similar to those of a gay man, I can appreciate that for other bisexuals the challenges may differ.
My top three tips from the session were:
- Don’t use the word gay as a blanket to cover the LGB acronym
- Don’t assume someone’s sexuality just because you know (or heard) they have a partner of a certain gender
- Visible role models are just as important as in any other community
Stonewall’s top ten tips were :
[ Click image to enlarge. See full guide ]
To help raise visibility on the topic and break down barriers to normalise the topic of bisexuality, please share your thoughts and experiences via the comments, or start a conversation offline.