Promoting bi inclusion in the workplace
With 2/5 employees hiding their bisexual identity at work, bisexual inclusion and visibility is a pressing issue that demands our attention. How do we make our workplaces more inclusive for our bi colleagues in a way that benefits and uplifts them?
Someone you know is bisexual. Recent reports estimate that there may be more people who identify as bisexual than people who identify as gay and lesbian combined.
With stats like that, you’d assume there would be bi flags everywhere! However, only 20% of bi people are out to their families, and about 2/5 employees are not out at work: 49% of bi men, and 34% of bi women. That’s a staggering number when you consider how many people in the world identify as bisexual.
September 23rd is annual Bi Visibility Day, and that word “visibility” is increasingly important. While more and more celebrities and well-known faces are coming out as bi – Lady Gaga, Jameela Jamil and Frank Ocean to name just a few – the fact is, bisexuality is often the invisible letter in the LGBTQ+ community.
This is due to a phenomena known as bi-erasure. Bi-erasure occurs as a result of outdated stereotypes that believe that a man who identifies as bi is secretly gay, or that a woman who identities as bi is just “experimenting”. This creates an unstable image of bisexual identities, this idea that it is transitory, a phase on the way to something else.
And this erasure comes from both straight people, and within the LGBTQ+ community. When people within both communities see a man and a woman holding hands, we immediately assume their heterosexuality. But that assumption doesn’t allow for the possibility of one or both of those people identifying as bisexual. When a bisexual person enters into a relationship, whether it’s with someone of the opposite or another gender, it does not erase their bisexuality: they still exist wholly as themselves within that relationship, with their own identity.
Indeed, many people who are bisexual are assumed by LGBTQ+ people to be mere allies, rather than members of the community, which can be hurtful for those who have made the often scary step to attend LGBTQ+ events.
The results of this erasure and enforced invisibility are blatant. We’ve heard before that not being able to bring your full self to work impacts your performance and your ability to be the best you can be. That, compounded with your very existence being questioned by everyone around you, must be an extremely difficult place to find yourself in.
So, what can we do to combat this in a workplace setting, and create a culture where our bisexual colleagues feel as though they can come out should they wish, and bring their whole selves to work?
1. Speak out: This can’t be repeated enough. There are lots of old and strong stereotypes about bisexual community, including being “greedy” or “sitting on the fence” regarding their sexuality. If you hear them repeated, whether it’s during a water-cooler chat or in a meeting, speak out against them firmly if you feel safe enough to do so.
2. Be actively inclusive: Often, many people see LGBTQ+ inclusion as solely down to the L and G, or the L, G and T. The B requires equal time, weight and attention – call out biphobia and promote bi-acceptance specifically.
3. Be institutionally inclusive: Incorporate bi-inclusive examples into your trainings, make sure that policies are bi-inclusive, and ensure bi representation in collateral and communications.
4. Take it seriously: Biphobia is just as serious as homophobia and transphobia. Discrimination should not be tolerated towards anyone: we should commit to combatting it wherever and against whomever it exists.
Bi-inclusion has a long way to go in our organisation, and many other organisations around the world. But if we work together, stand up, speak out, and take proactive steps towards a more inclusive workplace that works for everyone, we will be able to achieve it.