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LGBT+ History Month: acceptance in a remote workplace

In celebration of LGBT+ History Month, CASSL Committee members Tim Reilly and Ben Currie discuss how COVID-19 and remote working affect LGBT+ acceptance in the workplace.

February 2021

LGBT+ History Month is a celebration of the achievements of LGBT+ people across the world and promotes education about the issues which affect the LGBT+ community today. 

Nearly a year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic , it is important to consider the potential impacts that COVID-19 and remote working have on being LGBT+ in the (virtual) workplace. 

We’ve come a long way…

Over the past 30 years LGBT+ rights and acceptance in the UK workplace have transformed. 

Legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010, makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their sexual orientation. LGBT+ networks celebrate LBGT+ individuals in their organisations and promote acceptance.

We are increasingly seeing diversity and inclusion as one of the key priorities for any organisation. As a report by Open For Business  finds, companies that are more diverse and inclusive are more innovative, creative, collaborative, and financially successful.

Accountancy firms are at the forefront of these efforts, with KPMG named as one of the top 100 firms in 2020 by Stonewall’s annual index.

…but there’s still a long way to go

Sadly, it is not the case in the UK that all LGBT+ people feel supported by their employer.

Stonewall’s ‘LGBT in Britain: Work Report’ (2018) found that more than a third of LGBT+ staff have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT+ at work. Almost one in five LGBT+ staff have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the past year.

These problems affect our own industry, with polls conducted by the ICAEW showing nearly 50% of LGBT+ individuals felt their industry did not offer enough support and a majority that their workplace was not diverse enough.

From a global perspective, the outlook is bleaker still. Homosexuality remains illegal in around 70 countries, and LGBT+ acceptance in society and the workplace is non-existent in many more.

This affects companies’ ability to operate globally with a recent report, Working Globally by Open for Business, finding that LGBT+ laws and culture are the two most important factors influencing the decision of LGBT+ people to undertake international business travel and assignments.

Impact of COVID-19 and remote working on LGBT+ acceptance in the workplace

There has been a dramatic shift to remote working over the past year, a change likely to stay even in a post-COVID working world. This will have profound impacts on LGBT+, both positive and negative.

Remote working creates an environment in which LGBT+ staff may feel more comfortable to express themselves. The physical merging of work and personal spaces facilitated a break down between the work and the personal spheres. This is in contrast to the conformist tendencies of the office environment and indicates a move towards increased acceptance of diversity and idiosyncrasies.

Remote working could pose a risk to LGBT+ acceptance, as there is increased potential for exclusion by employers, managers, and colleagues.

Isolation makes it harder for employees to feel connected to company culture and to develop relationships with their colleagues. It is difficult to recreate casual and informal conversations which engender acceptance while working remotely.

Firms should consider these impacts when making decisions about the future of work in the post-COVID world. LGBT+ acceptance in the workplace has made great strides over the past few decades, and it is important that more flexible working reinforces, rather than stalls, this progress. 

How we are celebrating LGBT+ History Month and resources

The Chartered Accountants’ Student Society of London (CASSL) will be celebrating LGBT+ History Month throughout February by raising awareness through posts on our social media sharing the inspiring stories of notable LGBT+ figures in the accountancy industry. We also hope to host an online event for our members.

There are many resources provided by the ICAEW for both firms and LGBT+ individuals.

More resources here: 

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