Promoting LGB equality inside and outside the workplace
As set out above, raising awareness of the rights of LGB individuals, both amongst LGB people themselves and amongst those with responsibilities under the sexual orientation equality legislation, is a priority area for strategic action.
It is of note that the Commission’s most recent Equality Awareness Survey 2011 has found that only 22% respondents were aware that they had protection under equality law against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
In addition, the research jointly commissioned by the Equality Commission and the Equality Authority entitled Enabling Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Individuals to Access their Rights under Equality Law (pdf) has stressed the need for action by a number of key stakeholders to promote and raise awareness of the rights of LGB people under equality law.
Raising awareness of the rights of LGB individuals amongst those with responsibilities under the sexual orientation equality legislation, such as employers, service providers, public bodies and education providers, is also essential.
This can be achieved through a number of ways including promotional campaigns, promotion and sharing of good practice, and partnership working, including with representatives from the LGB sector.
Clearly there is a role for a number of key stakeholders, including the Government, the Equality Commission, LGB representative organisations, trade unions, and Citizens Advice Bureau, in raising awareness of rights amongst LGB individuals and in raising awareness amongst employers, service providers and others of their responsibilities.
It is also important to particularly recognise the key role that LGB individuals and representative organisations play in raising awareness of rights amongst the LGB community and in working in partnership with employers, service providers and others to promote LGB equality.
As stressed later, it is vital that capacity is built within the LGB sector in order to enable it to support and to bring forward such proactive initiatives.
In addition, to taking action to raise awareness of LGB rights, there is also a need for strategic action by a number of key stakeholders to remove barriers to LGB accessing their equality rights.
Research jointly commissioned by the Equality Commission and the Equality Authority entitled 'Enabling Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Individuals to Access their Rights under Equality Law' has made it clear that LGB individuals experience barriers to accessing their equality rights due to complex reasons that lie in the status and invisibility of LGB people within society, as well as issues associated with the legal framework.
The report contained a series of recommendations, both legislative and non-legislative. The recommendations were aimed at a range of stakeholders including the Equality Commission, LGB representative organisations, the Northern Ireland government, trade unions, legal aid bodies, the legal profession, etc.
A number of the recommendations arising out of that research relating to these changes have been incorporated in the Commission’s recommendations for reform of the equality legislation and in its recommendations for promoting LGB equality within the workplace and in service delivery.
For example, legislative changes include extending the time limits of lodging discrimination complaints, introducing representative actions and the power for the Commission to bring complaints in its own name and empowering tribunals to make discretionary orders to restrict publicity in sensitive cases.
Raising awareness of the rights and removing barriers to accessing rights
- The Commission recommends strategic action aimed raising awareness of the rights of LGB individuals, both amongst LGB people themselves and amongst those with responsibilities under the sexual orientation equality legislation.
Promoting LGB equality in the workplace
It is clear from our experience of dealing with sexual orientation discrimination that targeted action is need by employers across all sectors to promote a supportive and inclusive workplace for LGB employees.
For example, the majority of enquiries which we receive as regards discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation relate to the treatment of LGB employees in the workplace. As indicated earlier, it is clear that the majority of harassment enquiries which we receive relate to harassment within the workplace, and we have supported a number of cases which concerned shocking incidents of harassment in the workplace.
Further, the report ‘Through our eyes: Experiences of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People in the Workplace’, produced by the Rainbow Project in conjunction with the Department for Social Development has highlighted the barriers experienced by LGB people in employment in Northern Ireland.
In particular, it highlights the results of a survey that show that 26.9% of LGB respondents working in the private sector and 24.5% LGB respondents working in the public sector conceal their sexual orientation in the workplace.
Further, the survey reveals that negative comments about LGB people are frequently made within the workplace across all sectors.
Research in Great Britain has also highlighted the barriers employers face in developing LGBT friendly workplaces and has, for example, concluded that the problems encountered in the workplace would ‘seem to stem from wider attitudes towards LGBT’ and that Government action to tackle prejudice was seen as important. It made a series of recommendations on how Government can encourage employers to develop LGBT friendly workplaces.
We support the initiative commissioned by the Department for Employment and Learning in conjunction with the Rainbow Project to promote amongst local employers the business case for fostering LGB equality in the workplace. The Commission has also undertaken a range of initiatives with public, private and voluntary sector employers aimed at promoting and sharing good employment practice as regards LGB employees.
It is of note that research jointly commissioned by the Equality Commission and the Equality Authority entitled Enabling Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Individuals to Access their Rights under Equality Law recommended that LGB non-government organisations (NGOs) explore the feasibility of implementing an ‘e-quality mark’, designed to acknowledge best practice amongst employers and service providers.
We welcome the recent initiative shortly to be implemented by representatives from the LGB sector encouraging employers to become diversity champions. This is visible way in which employers can show clear commitment to LGB equality, both to their employees and customers.
It is clear from work taken across the UK by employers that there are a range of proactive steps that employers can take to promote LGB equality within the workplace. This includes, for example:
showing visible support from senior management to creating an organisational culture that supports LGB equality for employees;
setting up LGB networks groups within the workforce and where appropriate, having LGB trade union representatives to support and represent LGB employees;
ensuring policies relating to accessing benefits do not unfairly exclude same sex partners;
communicating ‘zero tolerance’ of homophobic harassment in the workplace by, for example, ensuring effective harassment policies that explicitly cover homophobic bullying are in place, and taking robust steps to address complaints of homophobic harassment;
implementing diversity training for employees and office holders in order to raise awareness of the rights of LGB employees within the workplace and the rights of LGB customers/clients, to explain how discrimination and harassment can occur and the leadership behaviours that are needed to promote LGB equality;
undertaking partnership working with the wider LGB community in Northern Ireland; for example, in order to deliver joint workplace initiatives, show visible corporate support for LGB equality, or to seek their views on the design and delivery of services;
profiling openly LGB role models in their organisation so as to promote an inclusive culture for other LGB employees.
monitoring and evaluating initiatives undertaken within the workplace to promote LGB equality in order to ensure tangible outcomes are achieved.
We recommend the Executive takes targeted action, working in conjunction with the ECNI and in partnership with the LGB sector, aimed at:
the provision of additional support, advice and information to employers on making their organisations more LGB friendly, particularly Small Medium Sized (SMEs) businesses
raising awareness of responsibilities under the equality legislation and sharing of good practice
additional research on the establishing the evidence base on the business benefits of having LGB friendly workplaces
encouraging employers to promote LGB equality in the workplace through the range of potential actions highlighted above.
Promoting LGB equality outside the workplace
It is clear that LGB people experience specific barriers to equality outside the workforce - when accessing goods and services, including access to health services.
For example, the Commission’s 2011 Equality Awareness Survey has shown that LGB people were more likely than heterosexual respondents to report unfair treatment when trying to access public services (21%) or when trying to use shops, bars and restaurants (26%), or trying to buy or rent property (21%) or been harassed because they belonged to a particular group (38%).
The Commission has also received complaints from LGB individuals in which they have indicated that they have experienced barriers to accessing services due to their sexual orientation. We have also supported a number of sexual orientation discrimination cases against service providers which reveal the discriminatory attitudes that some service providers hold towards LGB customers and clients.