Experts warn of ‘double glass ceiling’ preventing career progression

Lesbians and bisexual women face a “double glass ceiling” if they want to progress at work, experts have warned, after research showed many were still concealing their sexual orientation at work.

A poll of more than 1,200 women earlier this year by the RBS-sponsored British LGBT Awards found that 73 per cent were not out to all colleagues and external contacts.

Half were not out beyond their closest colleagues, while two in three had experienced a negative experience at work.

Awards founder Sarah Garrett said the latest research was launched when the awards organisers noted a low number of nominations for women.

“In many sectors such as finance and construction senior women are not visible – let alone senior gay women,” she said.

“There is a double glass ceiling – a feeling that it’s hard for women anyway and once you’ve battled to overcome one set of barriers you are less likely to come out.”

Almost nine in 10 respondents to the poll said it would help if there were more visible lesbian and bisexual women in senior roles. The British LGBT Awards is set to launch a campaign to increase the visibility of such women.

Garrett added: “The results are startling and clearly show that in 2016 lesbian and gay women are still finding it hard to be themselves in the workplace.

“Worse still, those who are out at work have had negative experiences including discrimination, bullying and reduced opportunities to progress compared to male counterparts.

“The findings are worrying and show that a lot of work remains to be done to change attitudes and promote acceptance,” she said.  

Daisy Reeves, finance partner at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, backed the campaign.

“Evidence, unsurprisingly, demonstrates that LGBT individuals are far happier and more productive in the workplace when they can be authentic,” she said. 

“I am now supporting the campaign to address this through role models who will demonstrate that being an 'out' women can be an overwhelming positive experience."

“We know that people perform better when they can be themselves, and when they perform better, so do organisations,” said a spokesperson from LGBT campaign group Stonewall. “ The results of this survey are worrying, and further prove how much work there is left to do until everyone, everywhere feels free to be themselves and is accepted without exception.”

Communications firm Dentsu Aegis Network is the latest UK organisation to launch an LGBT employee network.

Branded ‘&PROUD’, the network aims to support LGBT members of its 3,500-strong workforce and provide consultancy to clients who want to better understand and reach LGBT communities.

Liz Jones, chief executive of B2B, Dentsu Aegis Network UK & Ireland, said: “Businesses have a responsibility to cultivate and promote truly inclusive environments where people feel confident and empowered to be themselves, and do what they love.

“This isn’t just about helping a group of people find a voice, it’s about turning up the volume on what diversity means and encouraging everyone to embrace it.”