Programmes Manager at Stonewall Scotland, Caroline Gillan, talks about the importance of creating a workplace where all LGBT staff are accepted without exception.
Founded in 1989, Stonewall was initially set up in reaction to Section 28, legislation which prevented the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality being discussed in schools. Fast forward almost 30 years and what started as a small professional lobbying group is now a global organisation at the forefront of supporting lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, while partnering with organisations and educational establishments to help effect change.
“We work to empower individuals and Our Diversity Champions initiative helps organisations to create a workplace that ensures all LGBT staff are accepted without exception,” explains Caroline Gillan, Programmes Manager at Stonewall Scotland.
There is undoubtedly room for improvement when you look at recent research on how LGBT individuals feel in the workplace, “Only 21% of LGBT people surveyed in Scotland felt comfortable being out at work. That’s why the Diversity Champions programme is so important. Organisations that sign up to it and live its ethos are demonstrating that it’s a safe place for LGBT people to work,” Caroline says.
Sexual orientation is one of nine protected characteristics which come under the Equality Act 2010, and as Caroline explains, people often ask why information in relation to our personal circumstances needs to be disclosed, “I often hear people say, ‘why do we need to ask people questions about faith or sexuality?’ It’s because historically these people have been discriminated against in the workplace, so we need these protected characteristics. We need the Equality Act.”
The protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnerships, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Some are spoken about more than others, and unfortunately, LGBT issues don’t get talked about as much as they should, “LGBT equality is discussed less than some of the other issues, which is why we encourage organisations to get behind our Diversity Champions Programme, as it shows a real commitment to inclusivity,” says Caroline.
“Being an Ally is more than just saying you are an Ally. It’s showing you are an Ally. Wear a rainbow lanyard, have a Stonewall mug on your desk, add something to your email signature to show it’s a safe place for LGBT people to work."
When it comes to the workplace, people tend to feel uncomfortable talking about sexuality. This becomes even more difficult when someone who identifies as LGBT isn’t openly out at work and has to use strategies to manage it, “We offer an Allies training programme for non-LGBT people, which explores how individuals can become an inclusive ally to LGBT people in the workplace. As part of the training we do an exercise where we ask people to talk about what they did at the weekend, without using any names, pronouns or the names of bars or restaurants they went to. It’s incredibly difficult. For an LGBT individual doing that it takes up a lot of headspace and a lot of energy, which can impact on productivity.”
Allies are essential in helping to effect positive change. The challenge of homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying is still present in both the workplace and educational settings. In the last five years, more than 2.4 million people have witnessed verbal bullying in the workplace and 800,000 people have witnessed physical bullying, “There is still some way to go,” says Caroline, “41% of the LGBT population are not out at work and 62% of graduates go back into the closet when entering the workplace. That’s why we are committed to partnering with employers to help them create an environment that is inclusive and safe for an LGBT individual to work in.”
At the centre of all of this is education, and to support this, Stonewall holds an annual conference that brings together teachers, education professionals and youth workers to share best practice and improve learning experiences in their establishments, “It’s a very worthwhile day, which focuses on creating inclusive curriculums and tackling gender stereotypes. Baillie Gifford kindly sponsored eight places at our most recent conference, allowing teachers to attend that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to go. For that we are very grateful.”
As Caroline says, in order to effect change you need to be the change, “When we talk about allies, it’s not just about non-LGBT allies, it’s about allies in the LGBT community, too. For example, I don’t identify as transgender, however, I will certainly stand shoulder to shoulder with the trans community and challenge any discrimination I encounter on their behalf.
“Being an Ally is more than just saying you are an Ally. It’s showing you are an Ally. Wear a rainbow lanyard, have a Stonewall mug on your desk, add something to your email signature to show it’s a safe place for LGBT people to work. These things might seem subtle to you, but they help to make a difference. They help you to live the Acceptance without Exception ethos that promotes inclusivity for all.”