It’s not a secret that bisexual people are more likely to hide their sexuality in the workplace. Despite the huge gains made towards equality in the workplace, many bisexual men and women feel unable to be themselves at work. It is widely known that people perform better when they can be themselves. So why is bisexual visibility in the workplace an issue, and what can be done to change this?
The issues surrounding perception is one that many bisexual people cite as a reason they feel uncomfortable being open about their sexual identity. Due to a lack of open role models in organisations, many people’s perceptions of bisexuality are drawn from the media. This and other stereotypes lead to assumptions that are both demeaning and inappropriate. As a result, many bisexual people are victims of prejudice not just from heterosexuals, but also from gay men and lesbians.
In workplace initiatives, lesbian, gay and bisexual issues are usually lumped together. Whilst lots of progress has been made to address lesbian and gay issues, the LGB networks created in organisations can feel unwelcoming to bisexuals.
Stonewall research shows that bisexuals are half as likely to be out at work then their gay and lesbian colleagues, leading to a lack of visible role models. This creates a vicious cycle; no visible role models increase the likelihood of someone hiding their sexuality. As a result, LGB networks do not tend to have bisexual representation. The inclusive practises targeted at sexuality are often shorthanded as “gay”, leading to feeling invisible, or that policies or practises are not applicable to them. Finally, a lack of understanding about bisexuality can lead to LGB networks ignoring issues that are faced by bisexuals.
Bisexuals are often expected to repeatedly justify their sexuality, leading to many finding it easier not to talk about. If a woman who was open about being bisexual were to date a man, she is seen as straight now, regardless. If she then were to date a woman, the discussion of her sexuality is brought up again. Colleagues assume that if someone is not heterosexual, they must be gay, and if they are not gay, they must be heterosexual.
So, what can be done? Well after realising the differences in experiences between lesbians and gay men and bisexuals, Stonewall has created a guide for workplaces on how to better support staff identifying as bisexual*. The guide is useful and welcome, and includes testimonials from bisexual people, examples from companies of good practice and lots of practical advice for employers.
For there to be more inclusive practises in workplaces, there needs to be better visibility of bisexuals. Include bisexual representatives in workplace schemes aimed at promoting inclusivity, encourage and sponsor bisexual staff to attend and participate in community events. Bring in external speakers in to promote awareness of bisexuality in the workplace, leading to more role models being willing to come forward. Finally, their experiences should be listened to and learnt from.
From Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s director of public affairs: “We know that people perform better at work when they can be themselves. But for many bisexual people this is impossible. Employers need to learn that generic messages targeted at gay and lesbian people don’t necessarily resonate with bisexuals.”