Why we still need inclusion groups in today’s workplace

by Brannan Hancock
A group of people lay their hands on top of each other

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Hello, my name is Brannan Hancock, I am a Senior Software Engineer at Alfa and an openly bisexual man. Today, Sunday, May 17th, is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and the Leasing Foundation have invited me to share some of my own experiences of Biphobia.

Through this post, I help to answer the question: ‘Why do we still need LGBTQ+ inclusion groups in today’s workplace?’.

While today I am writing from the perspective of bisexual man, I invite you to consider not just of the specific LGBTQ+ issues I’m referencing but of parallels in your life or in the lives of those around you. LGBTQ+ groups focus on inclusion across the spectra of sexuality and gender expression, and LGBTQ+ inclusion is just one facet of Inclusion. Similar groups, which focus on issues such as racial diversity and gender equality, are all equally important. Each group is distinct in terms of its history, the issues they face in today’s society and each group is worthy of its own discussion. Despite these differences, many parallels exist, and it is through these parallels we can build a shared empathy.

So, why are Inclusion groups necessary in today’s workplace? Are people mistreated or facing harassment? At Alfa, I have had several conversations with our CEO where I have been told the company will not tolerate harassment and that this should be understood and demonstrated across the company. I have seen Alfa put out communications to say that the company understands how important it is that people can bring their entire selves to work. So why am I saying these groups are necessary? To illustrate the point, I’m going to use an example from popular culture to highlight issues that are commonplace today.

Are you aware of the Netflix show Love is Blind? To quote Netflix, the show is a ‘social experiment where single men and women look for love and get engaged, all before meeting in person.’ Essentially, 10 men and 10 women date each other for 10 days, all without setting on eyes on each other. When they do finally meet if they are happy with how the other looks, they get engaged and jet off to a holiday destination and start their life together. Though I’m writing from a bisexual perspective, I’m not going to write about the heteronormative premise of the show or its lack of LGBTQ+ representation. The issue I am going to discuss goes deeper.

One such couple on the show, a man and a woman named Charlton and Diamond, dated and ultimately got engaged. Following their engagement, they set off to their holiday destination and begin to get to know each other further. It was during one of these get-to-know-you conversations that Charlton revealed that he is bisexual. What followed on the show was an emotional rollercoaster on both sides of the conversation, culminating with the engagement ring being returned and Diamond stating “This isn’t for us!” The episode sparked a massive conversation online, with many posts asking women if they could ever date a bisexual man. The majority said no, but what I think was more damaging was what accompanied these messages. Social media was flooded with comments that perpetuated stereotypes and misconceptions about what it means to be a bisexual man. Eventually, this outpouring of hate and ignorance was seen by a man named Vaneet Mehta. As a bisexual man, he wasn’t happy with all of this negativity, and he wanted to turn it into something positive. He decided to revive the hashtag #BisexualMenExist and he attached a photo of himself and a comment explaining why he was doing this. His goal was to increase ‘Bi-Visibility’; to prove that bisexual men exist and deserve to be taken seriously and not to be dismissed as potential partners. #BisexualMenExist went on to trend around the United Kingdom, with hundreds of similar posts, all accompanied with images of bisexual men.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, why is this featuring on a blog aimed at Asset Finance professionals? I am writing about this because, according to Stonewall, 38% of bisexual people aren’t out in the workplace, and this jumps to 49% when considering Bisexual men alone. You may think this isn’t a bad thing; sexuality is incredibly personal; we aren’t entitled to know everyone else’s sexuality, nor should everyone need to declare their sexuality publicly. The problem with that statistic is that some bisexual men may be concealing themselves because of fear. And where there is a lack of psychological safety, there is scope for a problem.

How can a psychologically unsafe space manifest? Many different ways, one of which is via jokes. Though rare, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find any bisexual jokes funny. One in particular, which cracked me up, was even related to Asset Finance: “Bi-now, gay later”. The butt of the joke here is the idea that Bisexual men are just gay men still partway in the closet. The idea that bisexual men don’t exist, that they are just gay men who are lying. Not all jokes are equally as intelligent, another I hear regularly is along the lines of “you got off one stop early on the train to gays-ville”. That’s not even a pun!

Though these jokes can be funny when made by a friend, they start to be quite the opposite when the language used has negative connotations. Something that was meant to bring joy can quickly become weaponised. Words like ‘greedy’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘revolting’ leak out from the joke, and into the learned emotional response to the subject — this listener’s perception of bisexual people.

“Disgusting” and “Revolting”; these are words we hear on the street, on the tube, and sadly, for some of us, these are words we hear and feel in our homes. When you hear these words from a stranger, that’s one thing, but when you hear these words from someone you know, someone you like or someone you love, it can stick with you, and it can bring pain. If you’re so unlucky, these words can start to affect your feeling of self-worth. I speak about mental health regularly at my company, and as part of this, I’ve been fascinated (but also quite upset) to learn there is a huge intersection between people with mental health issues and those who are LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ people are 1.5 times more likely to develop depression and anxiety than the rest of the population.

So again, why write about this in a blog aimed at Asset Finance professionals? Ask yourself, “If we cannot take it for granted that our families will continue to love us in light of our sexuality, is it fair to expect us to assume that our colleagues will continue to respect us?” I’ve had a very different experience from most in terms of discovering my sexuality. I was at Alfa for well over a year before I realised that I am bisexual. In that year, I had the ability to establish myself, and my work, without concerns of how my sexuality would be handled being part of the equation. During that time, I built relationships with queer colleagues and with my managers and by the time I discovered my bisexuality, I had already learned that it was safe to be openly queer at work. So how do we give that knowledge to everyone? For me, the most important thing is to be vocal, to be outright and to say loudly: You will find acceptance here, always! Whether you are a prospective client, an interview candidate, a new hire, or an existing employee, you will be met with acceptance.

We are rolling a stone up a hill, and it is important that we don’t let go of that stone. Ever. This is why it is vitally important that we continue to have LGBTQ+ groups. This is why is vitally important that these groups grow, and that they get buy-in from their organisations, and from across our industry.

Thank you for taking the time to read this today. As I invited you at the beginning, I ask you again to think about parallels in your life or in the lives of those around you. What do you see in society? What do we see on social media? What language do we hear? Can that language affect those around us, particularly those around us who experience life through a different lens? Issues around sexuality, race, gender and gender expression are all distinct, and the more we and engage and learn about them, the more empathy we can build to benefit us all.