‘Double-glazed’ glass ceiling for lesbians in the workplace

// 4 November 2008

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Gay and bisexual women think their gender creates a greater barrier to success at work than their sexual orientation, according to research by Stonewall.

The report, entitled The Double-Glazed Glass Ceiling, is based on interviews with working lesbian and bisexual women from both the private and public sectors.

All participants felt that being lesbian or bisexual was something they ‘had to think about’ in relation to their work. The majority of the women interviewed felt that their gender had a greater impact on how they were treated in the workplace, because they were able to hide their identity as a lesbian if they wanted to.

“A lot of women in the workplace don’t want to put their hands up twice: once for being a woman and then secondly ‘by the way, I’m a lesbian,’” said ‘Jaqui’, one of the interviewees who worked in the private sector. “They feel they’ve got hard work enough cut out as a woman without having to take on board any sort of mission or responsibility for calling out that they’re a lesbian as well.”

Interviewees pointed to a lack of openly gay women in the workplace, with many expressing the opinion that such role models made a crucial difference to the confidence and profile of lesbians and bisexual women in working environments.

Among the recommendations made by the report are that employers should promote career development opportunities to lesbian and bisexual women and encourage them to develop confidence and assertiveness. It also recommends that employers should support and enable lesbian and bisexual senior members of staff to be out and involved in awareness raising initiatives.

Ruth Hunt, Stonewall Head of Policy, said: “Women know that in 2008 the glass ceiling is very much still in place. What this report shows is that for lesbians, that glass ceiling is double-glazed.

“It’s no surprise therefore that Britain’s two million lesbians remain almost invisible at work. In publishing this report Stonewall wants to see that change.’”

There are no known lesbian directors of FTSE100 companies. Only one parliamentarian out of more than 1,300 is openly lesbian.

[cross-posted at Lesbilicious]

Comments From You

Lotus // Posted 4 November 2008 at 3:50 pm

I can’t really say I’m surprised at all. On top of any conscious choice to be out or not, there’s the issue of how to be out. I suppose if you have a partner it’s different but, as a single lesbian, if I tell people without provocation you’re ‘shoving it in their faces’ and after it gets so far into the job with then presuming you’re straight it becomes awkward to be anything else. I’ve been in a situation before where I was give the oppertunity to come out after a joke made when I’d been working at a place 3 months and I didn’t take it becasue it felt awkward, after three months of working with these people, to have to tell them like it was something new.

I mean, when is the appropriate time to tell your boss that you’re a lesbian? I wish I knew.

Then of course there’s the issue of any discrimination you might face if you came out, the fact the people’s attitudes will probably alter towards you, it’s not always something you want to live with.

Sophie Gamwell // Posted 6 November 2008 at 5:17 pm

I am pretty open about my orientation in general. I have walked down the street holding hands with my GF and in the UK had no problem being open about my orientation. Working in the judiciary I came out to collegues as and when appropriate, discussing partners etc until one day a collegue made a homophobic comment. Then I had to go to a regional judge to report the issue. In fairness he made it simple, and it resulted in national training for people in my part of the judiciary on discrimination in broad terms but specifically including sexual orientation. I was pretty impressed with the reaction to be honest, though I suppose I should really be depressed that there are people in positions like that expressing those views.

I have now moved to a research job in Ireland. I have no idea how it will go down here. I don’t think its particularly work relevant but I refuse to be invisable. I won’t hide. So however it goes down it will eventually come up and I will deal with it when it does.

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