Working Out

Two years ago, Stonewall reported on their findings from researching bisexual experience in the workplace in the UK.  Two new reports from Canada and Ireland caught the BCN team’s eye this month.

Stonewall’s research was based on focus groups with people who identified as bisexual and worked for Stonewall ‘Diversity Champion’ approved employers.  It challenged whether the growing trend for LGB / LGBT staff networks in large companies and public sector organisations were delivering any real benefit for bisexual staff, and found bisexual staff have lower than average job satisfaction rates.

Stonewall’s report did not state the number of participants involved, but a smallish group of names repeated through the quotes in it suggest a relatively small sample size.

Ireland

The Irish Times reported on a survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual people about their experiences in the workplace, focusing on ‘disclosure’ – coming out to work colleagues, whether peers, bosses or people working under them.

It found an important distinction:

“Gay men and lesbians come out at work to the same extent; there is no significant difference between the two groups. Bisexual workers, however, are 50 per cent less likely to be out than their gay or lesbian counterparts.”

Because of the structure of the research it didn’t delve too deeply into the reasons for this but noted:

“Several bisexual participants commented that they feel judged or misunderstood by some colleagues who erroneously perceive them as opportunists ‘wanting it both ways’ “

Of the respondents some 61 were bisexual, two-thirds of those bi women.  This was about one in ten of all the people surveyed, which might also mean it is harder to reach bis as potential interviewees than gay or lesbian people.

Canada

Meanwhile Angus-Reid reported on their polling in Canada of bi and gay people at work.  Their findings from an online survey of 983 gay, lesbian and bisexual Canadian adults mirrored those in the UK and Ireland:

“Bisexual men and women are more likely than gays and lesbians to regard their private life as private, and even those who have come “out” do not see this as an important aspect.

“In fact, while more than three-in-five gays and lesbians feel comfortable talking about their personal life with their colleagues, the proportion is slightly lower for bisexual women (55%) and decidedly lower for bisexual men (38%).”

That makes bi workers about 70% as likely to be out as gay or lesbian workers – broadly in keeping with the Irish survey.

Making a conscious choice of keeping your private life private and compartmentalised away from work colleagues could be argued as a symptom of internalised biphobia.

Bi respondents in the Canada survey were much less likely to be out at work.  Depending on which workmate they were looking at – peers, supervisors, HR and so on – between 55-71% of gay men were out; only 16-23% of bi men. Similarly of the surveyed lesbians, 59-80% were out to different kinds of colleagues, while only 18-47% of bi women.

On the other hand, bisexual respondents were also less likely to have experienced discrimination at their current workplace (18% for both men and women) than lesbians (31%) and gays (32%).

So…
There seem to be strong parallels in the bisexual experiences reported in Britain, Ireland and Canada – each country has its own different situation in wider movement toward LGBT equality but these reports highlight the differences between bisexual and gay/lesbian experience in a way that previous reports that merged bi and gay data often missed out.

There are aspects that can be difficult: the old assumption of bis as enjoying ‘heterosexual privilege’ on account of being perceived as straight when in mixed-sex relationships gets some support from the ways that bis are reported as encountering (or perceiving) less discrimination at work.

However this is in a context of bis also seeming to be less ‘out’ and having a sexual identity with which they feel able to less strongly identify.  A ‘privilege’ based on masking and hiding who you are seems a very peculiar kind of benefit.

The usual end of research report line of “further research is required” applies.  We could also use further work to change the experience of being bi in the workplace.