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Emily Pattinson, Senior Diversity and Inclusion Consultant explores ways in which employers can be more LGBTQ+ inclusive by understanding concepts such as gender, sexuality and different identities.

Sex, gender and sexuality are terms we often hear discussed in the same conversation, but they are all separate and distinct concepts. Understanding theories around these terms will help us have conversations and improve our understanding of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Sex definition

Sex, or biological sex, is assigned at birth based on the biological aspects of an individual, such as anatomy, genetic makeup and hormone levels.

Sex is generally categorised as female, male or intersex. Intersex individuals are those who’s anatomy, genetic makeup and hormone levels are not easily categorised into female or male.

Gender definition

Sex and gender are often used interchangeably, and while they interact with each other, they are in fact very different.

Gender is an important concept in sociology. Some sociologists argue that gender identity is societally constructed and based on an internal perception of behaviours, attributes and self-expression and how these related to the individual’s ideas of concepts such as masculinity and femininity.

An individual’s gender identity may or may not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Those individuals who identify their gender identity as the same as the sex they were assigned at birth are known as cisgender (cis the Latin for on this side of).

Those whose gender identity differs in some way from the sex they were assigned at birth are known as transgender (trans the Latin for on the other side of), and transgender individuals can identify with binary genders such as female or male, or with non-binary genders that sit outside the female/male model such as genderfluid, genderqueer or agender.

Sexuality definition

Sexuality, or sexual orientation, is a different again. Whilst sexualities and genders are often linked, especially so by grouping them in the LGBTQ+ acronym, they are completely separate. An individual’s sexuality refers to those they may or may not have sexual and romantic attractions to.

For example someone who identifies as male who is sexually attracted to someone who identifies as female would be heterosexual or straight, regardless of if those genders were assigned at birth or not. There is a large range of terms relating to sexuality for example: lesbian (a women who is attracted to women), bisexual (someone who has both homosexual and heterosexual attractions) and asexual (someone who has no sexual attractions).


“We do talk about sexuality and gender in the workplace, but often these discussions are focused on heterosexual and cisgender assumptions.”

For ideas on how to make the workplace more LGBTQ+ inclusive, read our guide
People waving the pride flag

Exploring gender and sexuality in the UK and globally

In 2020 the Office for National Statistics estimated that 3.1% of over 16s in the UK identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. The variations in gender identity are not currently collected in the UK census making it difficult to ascertain how many transgender people there are in the UK.

The most recent UK census introduced a gender identity question to collect if an individual identified differently to the sex they were assigned at birth, but this is unlikely to provide a detailed understanding of the variation of gender identities in the UK.

In 2018 the LGBT charity Stonewall conducted research within the UK and found:

  • Only half of lesbian, gay and bi people (46 per cent) and trans people (47 per cent) feel able to be open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to their whole family.
  • 35% of LGBT staff have hidden that they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination.

Across the world the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals differ dramatically. Homosexuality is still defined as a criminal offense in 71 countries across the globe, 11 of which still carry the death penalty for those convicted. Only 16 countries across the world have a full or partial ban on conversation therapy (the practise of trying to ‘cure’ or ‘correct’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity), and only 20 countries in the world allow an ‘other’ or ‘third gender’ option.

Those who identify as LGBTQ+ often face societal stigma and exclusion which can have a catastrophic effect on mental health. This is illustrated in the Stonewall report which found 46% of trans people and 31% of LGB people reported having thoughts about taking their own life in the past year.

Why is this conversation relevant to the workplace?

Often when I work with companies around LGBTQ+ inclusion I will get the inevitable question, ‘How is talking about sexuality and gender relevant to the workplace?’

Because it hasn’t always been safe to talk about LGBTQ+ issues and identities in the workplace (and for many people, it still isn’t), we operate in a society where discussions focused on heterosexual (straight) and cisgender (female/male) assumptions are seen as ‘the norm’, and other identities that don’t fit into that world view are seen as ‘different’.

Additionally, hiding or withholding information about yourself at work takes a lot of effort, remembering who knows what detail, making sure not to mention your family, hobbies, friends or other aspects that might give away that you are LGBTQ+. All this effort to maintain a lie, and hide a bit of yourself can make work a very difficult place to be, increasing the likelihood of burn out and poor work performance.

For example, if a man talks about spending the weekend with his wife the assumption made is that he is straight, but he may be bisexual, pansexual or asexual. Does this mean we have to talk about our private sex lives? No! But by moving away from heteronormative assumptions in the workplace it is easier to create a truly inclusive environment where people can be their whole selves.

Heteronormativity and cisnormativity refer to society’s assumptions that being straight/heterosexual and cisgender (gender that aligns with sex assigned at birth) are the norm and to be LGBTQ+ is in some way abnormal or different.

When thinking about why conversations around sexuality and gender are so important in the workplace, the number one reason would be for employee mental health. Having to hide a part of yourself is exhausting, can cause problems building and maintaining relationships at work and overall has a negative impact on a person’s health. Having an open culture where people can talk about themselves, their families and their life without worrying about judgement or repercussions can be freeing for so many people.

Steps you can take to enhance LGBTQ+ inclusion:

  1. Understand your employees by having accurate, up-to-date diversity data around sexuality and gender.
  2. Use this data to inform your policy development, such as transitioning at work and shared parental leave policies.
  3. Enhancing the visibility and awareness of the needs of LGBTQ+ colleagues through events and training.
  4. Development or retrofitting of facilities, offering a gender-neural bathroom and removing gendered language from signage.
  5. Offer different development opportunities like mentoring to help LGBTQ+ staff engage with career progression.

How can Inclusive Employers help?

Starting the conversation around sexuality and gender can be nerve-racking if its not something you have been involved with before. Why not have a read of some of our great Member’s Resources, brush up on the basics with our Pride Month Factsheet, or dive into the details with our identity resources e.g. asexuality, bisexuality or non-binary identities. Perhaps awareness raising and training is what your workplace needs? If you are interested in training please let us know in the contact form below. You can also take a look at our webinars; these can also be tailored to your organisations’ needs – just get in touch below if you would like to find out more information.

We are also able to offer you lots of support and guidance on how to embed sexuality and gender into your inclusion approach, a few examples are: support designing a staff survey to collect and analyse sexuality and gender diversity data, creating an inclusive language guide for your communications team or helping with new policy development.

If you would like to talk to someone at Inclusive Employers about how we can support you contact your account manager, or if you are not a member please get in touch:

Grow your team

When you become an Inclusive Employers’ Member you grow your I&D team.

Your account manager works with you to understand your goals, your challenges and achievable next steps.

Do you need more support for your inclusive culture to thrive?

Learn about membership today

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