In most offices, Monday morning chatter focuses on what we have all been up to over the weekend. For many of us, sharing details of what events we have been to or the places we have visited is just part of the camaraderie we have with our colleagues and clients.
Now, imagine a scenario where as part of that Monday morning routine you find yourself having to ‘edit' what you have done during the weekend and, more importantly, who you were with. This is a real scenario that many LGBTI people face, day in and day out.
A friend of mine (who happens to be a lesbian) found that on starting a new job, her colleagues assumed that when she referred to her partner, she must have meant her ‘boyfriend.’ After weeks not wanting to correct them, she found herself creating another persona just because her colleagues assumed she was a heterosexual female.
This scenario often occurs when a person feels that sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity may not be positively responded to. This can occur when comments or ‘banter’ can be heard around the office, often leaving the person feeling uncomfortable with what's being said but also when it isn't addressed or called out as inappropriate.
Certain times of the year can bring dread to many; when an invite to an end-of-year celebration or a colleague's BBQ comes and the inevitable ‘you must bring your boyfriend/husband/partner’ request is made. At that point, you may feel comfortable in disclosing your sexuality to your colleagues, or as often is the case — find some way of politely declining the invite. The situation may even take a turn for the worse if you do attend with your partner and, once you've returned to the office, you feel the relationship you have with your work colleagues has changed as a result of them knowing your sexual orientation or gender identity.
Depending on the nature of the relationship, you may feel that speaking to the person directly is not an option. In that case, speak to your supervisor or manager about the situation, especially if you feel you are personally being discriminated against. If you do not feel that would work, reach out to an employee network support group for LGBTI staff to share your experience as well as seek support and guidance in a confidential manner.
Finally, you can always contact HR and share any relevant facts about any actions taken, comments said, etc. so there is a clear record of what has happened. Most organizations have very robust processes in place to ensure that no harassment occurs based on your sexual orientation or gender identity.
We all like to think that we work in environments where respect for one another is a given, but the fact that many of us still make assumptions shows that unconscious bias is evident. I would encourage everyone to first take the time to get to know your colleagues and to not make heteronormative assumptions around their sexuality — the phrase that many of you have heard, "we don’t need to bring that to the office," is not correct. We all want everyone to bring their whole selves to work and not feel they need to live in a edited world just to make others feel comfortable.
We all have the right to be proud of who we are as individuals, and our sexuality or gender identity should never change that. Especially in the workplace.
Lis Brown is a People Leader with more than 25 years experience in the Management Consulting and Technology Industries. She has spent most of her career working around the globe and has truly embraced operating across different cultures and working styles, often being the only woman leader in the room. Lis is a passionate supporter of all aspects of Diversity and more importantly in ensuring inclusive and supportive environments for all. She is known for her strong moral compass and has no fear in speaking out and doing the right thing.