With the drive to encourage visibility and inclusion of people across diverse sexual orientations, bisexual identities are often hidden within the workplace, even within lesbian and gay spaces such as staff networks. Research suggests that due to wider socio-cultural misconceptions and stereotypes about bisexual identities, the workpace remains perceived as an unsafe space for those who identify as such.
Why should employers do something?
Aside from moral and ethical considerations, part of the duty of care of employers in the UK is to ensure that employees feel safe to be themselves in the workplace regardless of sexual orientation. Employers within the public sector have to ensure that they are promoting inclusion and fostering good relations between diverse people. Therefore, for organisations like the NHS, measures need to be tangible, measurable, transparent and applied equally across departments, services, staff groups and patient groups.
What should employers do?
(a) Roll out initiatives in stages and make sure they are sustainable so they become embedded in organisational culture. Ensure that policies include assessment about bisexual inclusion.
(b) Explore the needs of people who identify as bisexual across staff groups. Listen to those coming forward to share their experiences and respect their need to be heard to progress inclusion and fair practices. Respect the fact that some people may not want to be open about their sexual orientation in the workplace.
(c) Recognise that messages targeted at lesbian and gay staff do not automatically apply to those who identify as bisexual.
(d) Devote more resources (e.g. training, leaflets, online services, testimonials from bisexual people) initially to bisexual awareness as this is an area historically ignored – so more will need to be done to start with. Follow this with integrating bisexual awareness into wider equality and inclusion initiatives around sexual orientation.
(e) Create a safe environment so role models are able to come forward if they want to. Ask leaders across staff groups to highlight bisexual awareness. Research by Stonewall shows that bisexual people are half as likely to be out at work than gay and lesbian people. This lack of visible role models increases the likelihood of others hiding their sexual orientation, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of invisibility and hidden stigma. This is additionally the case for those with intersectional identities – for example bisexuals who are disabled, or from minority ethnic groups, or other marginalised groups.
(f) Encourage bisexual staff to participate in events and conferences to raise their confidence levels and help them feel included.
(g) Encourage those who do not identify as bisexual to reflect on their prejudices and how they can help support and recognise bisexual identities in the workplace.
Training and Resources
Contact the EDI Team if you would like a training session run for your staff. We are happy to come along and talk to you about resources you need and support you in providing a safe space. We can also help you to set up consultation groups to get the process of thinking about and raising bi-visibility at work.
You can also use the resources below to get up to date on the subject matter.