Workplace Guides: Bisexual People in the Workplace

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Engaging Bisexual Employees

In this chapter:

Creating inclusive employee networks

Network groups are a key way for employers to engage lesbian, gay and bisexual staff and promote equality in the workplace. Many participants felt that the majority of organisations who have LGB networks do very little to encourage bisexual staff members to participate in the group. Many participants told us that they felt LGB networks primarily catered for lesbians and gay men and that bisexual issues were not on the group's agenda.

Bisexual staff can be encouraged to participate in networks by:

  • Nominating a bisexual officer responsible for advising the network on current issues and responsible for bisexual inclusion
  • Holding an awareness raising event with a guest speaker from the bisexual community
  • Planning an event around bisexual workplace issues open to all staff and publicising it throughout the organisation
  • Developing an electronic network and idea sharing system to encourage participation from bisexual staff who feel uncomfortable attending meetings
  • Ensuring bisexual members are represented on steering groups and committees, therefore encouraging bisexual colleagues to become role models and advocates
  • Ensuring the network has a well-publicised confidentiality policy
  • Holding both 'open' and 'closed' meetings allowing bisexual staff to come to open events without having to disclose their sexual orientation
  • Offering to meet potential members of the network for coffee half an hour before meetings to introduce them to the network and make them feel comfortable

Manchester City Council's Equal Opportunities in Employment policy contains a paragraph on why bisexual men and women may face unique issues in the; workplace. It states, 'The Council recognises that bisexual people may be the target of specific discrimination and that their experiences often differ from those of lesbians and gay men. The Council recognises that fear of discrimination is the major factor which forces bisexual people to conceal their sexuality and to present themselves as heterosexual, lesbian or gay depending on the situation'.

The Home Office LGBT Network, Spectrum, includes several strand-specific representatives. This includes a bisexual rep who is responsible for promoting bisexual inclusion within the network. Spectrum also produces posters with contact details of the bisexual rep encouraging bisexual employees and other interested parties to get in contact. Several other public bodies including the Environment Agency and the umbrella group Civil Service Rainbow Alliance (CSRA) follow a similar model.

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Widening bisexual awareness

Making LGB employee networks inclusive is only one way to engage with bisexual employees. Participants indicated that they would like their employers to promote bisexuality in the workplace beyond networks particularly because some individuals did not feel comfortable joining network groups for LGB staff. To do this, employers should endeavour to raise awareness of all staff on issues that affect bisexuals. Using already established means of promoting diversity and communicating inclusive workplaces, employers can encourage bisexual engagement.

Organisations that have an appointed diversity or lead champion for sexual orientation should ensure that bisexual issues are being appropriately raised within the diversity group, the executive board and throughout the entire organisation.

As part of their work to strengthen ties with the bisexual community, Sussex Police's champion for LGB issues attended a bisexual community event in Brighton. This served to ensure that any concerns the bisexual community had could be answered by a senior police officer and to raise awareness of bisexual issues within the organisation, particularly at senior levels.

Effective bisexual engagement may include:

  • Inviting a guest speaker on bisexual awareness to an event as part of your diversity week
  • Examining your training package to ensure bisexual inclusion. In more advanced training packages consider including a scenario exercise dispelling myths around bisexuality
  • Making use of posters and notice boards. This may include encouraging underrepresented groups like lesbians and bisexual men and women to attend network group meetings
  • Including information on bisexuality and promoting your bi-inclusive policies during induction events
  • Putting information on the company intranet or internet pages within existing diversity pages. Information can include definitions, fact sheets, useful external links and FAQs
  • Ensuring that internal and external communications on sexual orientation use inclusive language

The Rainbow Network supports the Ministry of Justice to develop good practice on sexual orientation and gender identity within the organisation. As part of this work it runs a catalogue of events, available for all staff, including a workshop on bisexual awareness. It includes discussion on the accuracy of stereotypes that surround bisexuality and the impact of biphobia.

National Offender Management Service (NOMS) network for LGBT staff members, GALIPS, aims to promote awareness and good practice in sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. In their newsletter, Respect, they profiled their chair who used this opportunity to promote bisexual awareness and dispel myths. NOMS' training package on sexual orientation also includes awareness information on bisexuality.

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Supporting bisexual staff

Some bisexual staff perceive that both lesbian and gay and straight staff are allocated more resources and support in the workplace. They also feel that because many bisexual people are not out at work they are unable to access training and development initiatives. Employers should ensure that generic career development opportunities are promoted to bisexual staff through the staff network and internal communications. At the same time bespoke work should be done on increasing support to marginalised bisexual staff.

These might include:

  • Mentoring: Many organisations make facilities available that allow lesbian and gay employees to request a lesbian or gay mentor within the central mentoring scheme. Organisations should consider expanding this to allow bisexual mentors and mentees to be identified. If no bisexual mentors come forward, organisations should consider forming inter-organisational mentoring programmes. Inclusive LGB network groups are a good way to promote the LGB elements of mentoring schemes and can be a useful way of encouraging uptake among bisexual employees.
  • Career development: Some participants felt that being bisexual limited their career development opportunities and made it more difficult to form meaningful relationships with their colleagues. Organisations should proactively encourage bisexual staff to apply to personal and professional development courses and monitoring take-up of these activities to confirm that bisexual staff are securing places. Tailored career advice and support is another proactive way to combat this perception and encourage bisexual employees to take up career development opportunities. Career advisors and anyone else in a position to offer career advice and support such as line managers and counsellors should be aware of the issues bisexual people face in the workplace.
  • Role models: The lack of visible bisexual role models was one of the major issues that participants felt was important to change in the workplace. Having openly bisexual staff at senior levels of an organisation sends a clear message throughout the organisation that being bisexual is not a barrier to career development. For various reasons including fear of discrimination, there are very few openly bisexual senior men and women who can be considered as potential role models. Therefore, organisations should continue to tailor career development initiatives to bisexual staff and encourage bisexual staff to become role models.

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