To create a truly safe and inclusive workplace culture, HR practitioners should establish policies that follow a zero-tolerance approach to bias, barriers and discrimination. These policies should champion equality of outcomes and impact for all protected characteristic groups, including sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

The situation

The CIPD’s research on inclusion at work explores LGBT+ experiences of work, from conflict and wellbeing to job outcomes, and finds that LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience workplace conflict and harassment than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. 
Examples include:

40% of LGB+ workers and 55% of trans workers in the UK have experienced such conflict, compared with 29% of heterosexual, cisgender employees.
A higher proportion of LGB+ workers (16%) feel psychologically unsafe in the workplace compared with heterosexual workers (10%), while for trans workers, this figure is even higher at 18%.

Based on UK research carried out by YouGov, the Stonewall report highlighted that many LGBT+ people are still unable to be themselves at work. Just over a third of LGBT+ staff say that they’ve hidden their sexual orientation or gender identity at work, and a further fifth of LGBT+ people experienced negative comments or negative behaviour from work colleagues in the last year due to them being LGBT+. 

The discrimination, bullying and harassment of trans employees needs to be stamped out – 12% have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year because of their trans identity.

Sexual orientation discrimination and gender reassignment discrimination are illegal in the UK, and are listed as protected characteristics in the UK Equality Act 2010. Discrimination takes place when someone is unfairly disadvantaged for reasons related to their sexual orientation or because they are transsexual* (transgender).

*Note: We recognise that terminology evolves, and that there’s not always universal agreement on the meaning of some terms. We say this specifically with regards to the word ‘transsexual’, which, although used in the Equality Act 2010, is now generally considered as outdated and misleading. ‘Transsexual’ is just one term under the broader umbrella of ‘trans’, which describes people whose gender is different from their sex at birth.

The Equality Act 2010 does not explicitly protect those people identifying as non-binary. However, as per case law, they could be protected if they are discriminated against on the basis of them considering, going through, or having gone through, gender reassignment. (Also see ‘perceptive discrimination’ on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender reassignment and employment.)


CIPD viewpoint

The CIPD believes that an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity should not affect whether they get a job, benefit from training or get promoted. Everyone has the right to equality of access, treatment and outcomes throughout the employee lifecycle including access to jobs, developing their skills and talents to achieve their full potential, working in a safe and inclusive environment, being fairly rewarded at work, and having a voice in their organisation. It’s in the best interests of any organisation to understand and respond positively to LGBT+ issues to attract and retain the best people.

We recognise that the rights of one group can come into conflict with another – for example, the rights of trans women and cisgender women. In such circumstances the CIPD encourages employers and organisations to assess each situation on a case-by-case basis, listen and, if necessary, seek advice to enable all colleagues to be supported.

In addition to a sensible zero-tolerance approach to both sexual orientation and gender reassignment discrimination, HR and managers need to set behavioural expectations for the workforce and the organisation’s stakeholders through policies, and lead by example in championing sexual orientation and transgender people equality of outcomes and impact. It’s essential that policies are brought alive by the behaviour and actions of everyone in the organisation, ensuring workplace cultures are an inclusive and safe space for all.

Recommendations for employers

  • Take steps towards building an inclusive culture by critically assessing your organisational culture. Do you have a culture of inclusivity at work? Are your policies and practices underpinned by principles that actively value, celebrate and encourage differences? Do you have mechanisms in place through which employees can voice issues about inequality and voice their opinions on what needs to change?
  • Review your organisation’s policies to ensure they deliver equality of outcomes and impact. Clear and effectively enforced policies, supported by regular equality, diversity and inclusion training as part of continuous professional development, can eradicate homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and help champion improved outcomes. Policies should include practical examples of unacceptable behaviour and best practice.
  • Work closely with leaders and managers to ensure they implement and lead people management practices compassionately and fairly and understand how to support and champion trans staff equality and inclusion.
  • Work with LGBT+ staff networks in a positive and active way, ensuring a two-way dialogue. Utilise staff insight and expertise to evaluate and integrate LGBT+ equality, diversity and inclusion change into people policies, processes, performance management and organisation culture.
  • Champion LGBT+ equality, diversity and inclusion from the top of the organisation, for example, have leadership allies and LGBT+ representation in senior decision-making.

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