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Why are LGBT+ employees still more likely to be involved in workplace conflict?

Consultancy 17th February 2021

New CIPD research suggests that more than four in 10 LGBT+ employees have experienced workplace conflict in the past year. This compares with a figure of 29% for heterosexual employees also taking part in the CIPD’s UK Working Lives survey.

In general, LGBT+ workers were found to have experienced higher levels of conflict, lower levels of feelings of psychological safety and lower job satisfaction. Perhaps worse of all for HR, around 50% said the conflicts that had occurred still remained unresolved.

We live in a very different age to that of the 20th century. LGBT+ lifestyles are open and celebrated, reflected in everyday ways in TV, film and other media. Generally-speaking there’s a positive culture of awareness and understanding. And yet, as the CIPD data shows, something seems to be going wrong.

The typical response to this kind of discrimination issue is to call for more inclusion training, more education, more awareness. One of the other main recommendations from the CIPD has been for HR to make sure there are ‘voice mechanisms’ for LGBT+ staff, opportunities to speak up.

It’s here that we get to the crux of what’s happening. Isn’t the reason that LGBT+ employees are more likely to report being involved in workplace conflict exactly because they now feel more able to complain? Behaviour and comments that might have gone under the radar in the past – that LGBT+ employees felt they needed to just try and ignore, even have to accept as part of working life – are now being challenged.

That’s obviously a positive and necessary development. In itself, conflict isn’t bad for workplaces – it often just means people are working through differences in personality, experience, perspective and ideas. Misunderstandings not malice. Issues out in the open, not buried.

What matters, crucially, is how well-equipped staff and managers are to deal with those difficult conversations. Can people be open, and feel able to be open, about experiencing discriminatory treatment and behaviour – without being either seen as a ‘problem’ or pushed into a world of formal grievance and disciplinary processes?

More than ever HR needs to be certain there are systems and skills in place: making early, informal resolution possible. In other words, a workplace with the maturity and professionalism to talk through any issue and clear the air; to use mediation where it’s needed; and be able to draw on trained investigators for the most complex cases.