OPINION: After Pride, it is time to focus on mental health for LGBT+ employees

by Simon Blake | Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England
Tuesday, 16 July 2019 10:10 GMT

Participants take part in the annual Christopher Street Day (CSD) Gay Pride parade, in Cologne, Germany July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

With LGBT+ employees more likely to face discrimination, harassment and mental health issues it is clear we need to do more better support and include them in the workplace

Simon Blake is chief executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and deputy chair of UK LGBT+ campaign group Stonewall

This month, around 1.5 million people turned out for London Pride and UK Black Pride. From PwC to Virgin Atlantic, many organisations took to the streets to celebrate the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

It is encouraging to see an increasing number of organisations come out and fly the rainbow flag for Pride. But how can we ensure we see real cultural change and better workplace support for LGBT+ employees all year round?

Although we have seen multiple legal changes in recent years in support of gay, bi and trans rights there are still a number of barriers we need to overcome to ensure equality for all.

This is particularly true in the workplace.

LinkedIn research recently found that LGBT+ employees in the UK take home on average £6,703 less each year – twice the gender pay gap. It also found that more than 60% of gay, bi and trans respondents have been made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace due to their sexuality.

Alongside this, we know that LGBT+ people are more likely to experience mental health issues. A recent Stonewall report revealed that more than half of gay, bi and trans people say they have experienced depression in the past 12 months.

From my own experience, I can understand how isolating the workplace can feel. In my first graduate job, I was reluctant to come out to colleagues despite being out to most of my friends. However, with their support, I eventually did decide to discuss my sexuality. Unsurprisingly, given I worked in the sexual health sector, I was well supported and have had brilliant bosses throughout most of my career since then.

But I know this is not the case for everyone.

With LGBT+ employees more likely to face discrimination, harassment and mental health issues it is clear we need to do more to create lasting cultural change so they feel better supported and included in the workplace.

We know people perform better when they are happier at work; it benefits everyone. Therefore we must create welcoming, safe and supportive environments so people feel they can bring their whole selves to work.

Sending a clear message about inclusion is important. Organisations should outline their approach in recruitment campaigns, welcome letters and inductions. It must be a golden thread that runs through all communications from posters in common spaces through to performance review conversations.

Creating an LGBT+ group for colleagues to get together and discuss issues and support one another is a good way to foster an inclusive culture. Encouraging allies to join the group too helps demonstrate an open and accepting approach.

Hosting events with the input of such LGBT+ groups can also help to keep the conversation going beyond big awareness events like Pride.

A whole-organisation approach, year-round, is needed to create the right culture. Therefore it is also important that employees on the ground, who work with one another day in, day out, feel comfortable supporting a colleague who is experiencing mental ill health. Having line managers trained in mental health and awareness skills is a good way to achieve this.

Mentally healthy workplaces and inclusive workplaces come hand in hand too. Therefore those at the top must ensure these issues are firmly on the agenda in order to sustain healthy, creative, and successful businesses. Through this practice, we can ensure we continue to push for progress beyond Pride and create an environment where everyone has an equal chance to thrive.

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