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Supporting employees with coming out in the workplace

Josh Cavallo has demonstrated enormous bravery by becoming the only current male professional footballer to come out as gay. We consider how employers can foster a workplace environment that is supportive of LGBTQ+ employees who choose to come out.

This week Josh Cavallo of Adelaide United showed incredible courage by publicly announcing his sexuality. His simple statement of “I’m a footballer and I’m gay” is hugely significant as it makes him the only current male professional footballer to openly come out. It is hoped that the bravery demonstrated by Josh will make others within the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically those playing football at the highest level, feel empowered to express their true identity and be their true selves - at work or otherwise. 
Whilst Josh’s announcement represents a significant step in the right direction, Stonewall report that over 35% of LGBTQ+ employees have not openly voiced their sexuality and/or gender identity at work through fear of discrimination. It is therefore clear that progress still needs to be made and employers have a responsibility to foster a culture that makes their employees feel able to live as their authentic selves.

How can employers support LGBTQ+ employees who choose to come out in the workplace?

The decision to come out can be a huge one for those who identify as LGBTQ+ and whether or not they have access to a supportive environment may be a key factor that they take into consideration. Like Josh Cavallo, many think that people will think differently of them, and treat them differently. Steps that employers can take to support LGBTQ+ employees through this process include:

  • taking inclusivity in the workplace seriously. All employees, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity should be able to be themselves both in and out of the workplace;
  • including sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in equal opportunities, inclusion and parental leave policies, as well as having transition policies in place to support staff who are transgender. Publishing clear LGBTQ+ friendly policies that encourage a diverse workplace and have a zero-tolerance approach to workplace discrimination, harassment and victimisation is simply a must;
  • demonstrating allyship through use of inclusive language that avoids stereotyping individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • creating a visible LGBTQ+ staff network, with specific aims and objectives for the LGBTQ+ workplace community and its allies. Ideally, such a network should have a lead person or champions as well as support from the employer’s leadership team (including a “sponsor”). 
  • Having an appointed diversity officer could also assist in organising webinars and celebrating events such as Pride Month or National Coming Out Day;
  • actively implementing any suggestions given by LGBTQ+ employees and ensuring that these employees feel heard;
  • normalising discussion around gender pronouns and facilitating their use within email signatures, name badges, correspondence salutations and meeting etiquette;
  • delivering equality training and workshops to all employees to provide them with a greater awareness regarding the struggles faced by LGBTQ+ employees, as well as the tools to tackle any unconscious biases that they may have towards the community;
  • reinforcing that it is unacceptable to ‘out’ LGBTQ+ employees - whilst an individual may have confided in chosen colleagues about their identity, this does not automatically mean that they feel comfortable with this being shared more widely. Coming out is often a very difficult process for the individual concerned and it is crucial that confidentiality is respected so that LGBTQ+ employees remain in control of their privacy;
  • avoiding the use of non-inclusive, presumptuous, or discriminatory language, such as “that’s so gay”, or asking female staff about their husbands or male staff about their wives.
  • Any such behaviour should be confronted or dealt with in an appropriate manner, and in line with existing equal opportunities and/or anti-discrimination and harassment policies;
  • linking your LGBTQ+ staff network to any other internal staff networks that you may have. Learnings and opportunities can be shared for the wider benefit of your business, particularly on issues such as intersectionality; and
  • Making it clear that there is support available to all individuals in their approach to their coming out, should they want it, and signposting LGBTQ+ staff to local charities or other support groups if required.

Above all, it must be remembered that all LGBTQ+ people, as with straight people, are different and difference should be celebrated. People are meant to be their true selves, not someone else. Allow everyone to be proud of who they are.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2021.

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