It’s Grim at Work

This originally appeared in BCN issue 100.

Oh, the irony of giving a Stonewall brochure called “Bisexual people in the workplace: a practical guide for employers” to someone who is not only not an employer but not even employed at the moment… Never mind.  That’s hardly the point; though I am clearly not the target audience of this publication, I was very interested in what it had to say.  I approached it somewhat warily, as for a long time Stonewall had a reputation for mentioning bisexuality and bisexuals only when it’s time to ask for money.  But I am deep down a kind soul and was hoping this would prove that they could do better when it comes to bisexuality and those of us who enjoy it.

It starts off all right, pointing out that this is the first “to capture the opinion of bisexual employees” (though now that I think about it, I wonder what took them so long; it’s not as if we haven’t been here this whole time) and emphasizing the importance sexual orientation can have in the workplace, as the pressure people can feel to suppress or misrepresent this part of their identity, however irrelevant sexual orientation might be to their jobs, can negatively affect other aspects of their performance at work.

Awareness of these potential issues is increasing, at least as it pertains to lesbian and gay people, be they employees or colleagues.  However, bisexual people (some of you may find this familiar, just join in when you recognize the tune) often feel unable to access the very initiatives put in place to support them, because of negative stereotypical assumptions about bisexuals and bisexuality from both the straight and gay-and-lesbian communities.

This is hardly likely to be news to readers of BCN, but clearly this sort of information is in need of wider dissemination, which it is hoped the booklet, with the name recognition (however dubiously we might recognize that name to be) and authority of Stonewall behind it, can help bring to employers.

The booklet then walks readers through issues that might be of interest to bisexual staff, which again might be very familiar to bis – outlining some stereotypes bisexuals can often be saddled with such as hearing that we are greedy, indecisive, tricky, complicated, evasive, or just in denial about being homosexual — but then also indicating how they impact on work.  Usually these unfortunate assumptions are more annoying than life-threatening, but at work they can have severe consequences: if you thought someone was untrustworthy and indecisive in one area of their life, you might think they were the same in other areas, and would you want to put such a person in charge of an important project?  Would they be as likely to get a promotion?  Could they be as respected as a manager?  It’s definitely food for thought.

The next section sets out examples of policies that could be instated (for instance, to ensure bullying against bisexual staff is treated as seriously as any other kind of bullying) or updated (such as switching to more inclusive language in policies and benefits, to make it clear that, for instance, they apply to “opposite-sex and same-sex partners”).  It also states the importance of consulting with bisexual staff, as they often feel unrepresented even when organisations have claimed to consult with LGB staff on issues that affect them in the workplace.  It goes on to list ways the views of bisexuals can be considered in the workplace without unduly compromising their confidentiality or other things that might deter them from speaking up.

This booklet does a good job of that itself; it is full of quotes from people who were consulted on the various issues outlined here.  Their words often ring true to me, so I am glad to see them representing what would be new and unusual views to employers that were heretofore unused to them.

The booklet can only speak in broad sweeping generalizations, but it does attempt to highlight the issues bisexuals face, the importance they can have in the workplace, and what can be done to address those issues to the satisfaction of both employers and employees.  It’s good to see it stressing the importance of including bisexuals in already-existing policies and procedures that might originally have been formulated with gay and lesbian people in mind.  Small changes can make a big difference.

 

The press release:

Bisexual employees feel excluded from support networks by lesbian and gay colleagues
Stonewall has published findings to help employers to support bisexual employees and develop bisexual inclusive policy and procedures. Bisexual People in the Workplace, supported by the Home Office, shows how the experience of bisexual staff is often distinct from lesbian and gay employees and what employers can do to address this. One finding is that lesbian, gay and bisexual employee network groups often exclude bisexuals.
Bisexual People in the Workplace highlights the difficulties bisexual employees face when trying to be out in the workplace. It also includes recommendations based on good practice currently being developed by some of the 500 employer members of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme.
‘Bisexual employees, like all staff, perform better when they can be themselves. For many bisexual employees it can be difficult to be open about their sexual orientation – particularly if they don’t feel that their employee network is supportive of bisexual staff,’ says David Shields, Stonewall Director of Workplace Programmes. ‘There are a number of practical actions employers can take to include bisexual staff at work. By making workplaces more inclusive everyone benefits and employers can make the most of the talent they have.’
The report can be downloaded from www.stonewall.org.uk/bisexualworkplaceguide
Individual copies of the 24 page booklet can be ordered from Stonewall on 08000 50 20 20.