THE BLOG

Isolated, Anxious and Less Confident - The Damage That Can Be Done by Hiding Who You Are

14/01/2015 14:49 GMT | Updated 15/03/2015 09:59 GMT

LGBT diversity in the workplace took huge strides in 2014. Christopher Bailey of Burberry was appointed as the first ever LGBT CEO of a FTSE 100 company; Tim Cook, the CEO of the world's most valuable brand, told the world he was proud to be gay; and at OUTstanding, the professional network for LGBT and Straight Ally business executives I run, we doubled the number of professionals celebrated in our annual list of the Top 100 LGBT business leaders in October.

Does this mean then that the issue of LGBT diversity at work is no longer an issue? If the CEO of Apple stands as a proud advocate of your cause, is the fight for acceptance over?

To find out, we recently asked 200 of our LGBT members, 99% of whom are 'out', high-flying business execs, working for some of the world's biggest businesses for their views. The results are illuminating.

Firstly, it's worth saying that when we read the results we were cheered by the response. On the whole, our members painted a relatively open and accepting view of their current situation. 60% don't see sexuality-based workplace harassment as an issue and nearly three quarters (74%) don't think being out had a negative impact on their career progression.

This is brilliant news indeed! However, as our members are senior level executives for businesses with progressive attitudes toward diversity, this is perhaps not surprising. However, for those working further down the ladder, the situation is not so bright. Just 24% of top level execs have faith that middle managers share their inclusive attitude toward LGBT colleagues.

This disconnect is clearly worrying. And it's not just individuals, but businesses which are feeling the impact of non-inclusive attitudes. 85% of those polled think closeted LGBT professionals waste energy pretending to be someone they're not and 61% worry this group are less committed toward their organisation. In addition, 80% of respondents believe if people are not openly themselves at work it damages their confidence; 86% think it leaves them isolated from their colleagues; and 86% believe the fear of being 'found out' causes anxiety.

As we kick off 2015, it seems that for many, the perception is still that it's safer to stay in the closet if they want to get on at work. In fact 62% of students who were out at Uni go back into the closet when they start work.

At OUTstanding we believe in a top-down approach to addressing this. It's vital that those in leadership positions use their influence to communicate that by being authentic and yourself at work business professionals will be more confident, perform better and ultimately boost the business's bottom line.

Respondents in our poll agreed - almost a third said there is a need for more openly LGBT executive role models (27%) and more mentoring opportunities for LGBT employees (25%). A greater level of boardroom diversity would also give those employees working in the middle of an organisation the confidence to smash through the 'glass closet,' according to 24% of respondents.

Some big businesses are already taking this seriously and adopting this approach - our members highlighted IBM, Google and Barclays as the organisations they admire for taking the greatest steps to encourage LGBT diversity, both in the UK and abroad.

Claudia Brind-Woody, Vice President and Managing Director of Intellectual Property Licensing at IBM explained that, "fostering an openly diverse working environment is good business, it allows us to retain the best talent, encourage innovation and empower our employees to bring their whole selves to work."

My hope is that in 2015 we see both more corporate bodies and LGBT and straight executive individuals take up the mantle to encourage professionals at all levels to be authentic leaders. This way I really believe we can make LGBT diversity in the workplace a non issue within a decade in the UK.

If you would like to see the full survey results please email OUTstanding@capellapr.com