The gay rights activist group Stonewall has identified several public sector organisations as gay friendly in its annual survey.

Facebook has extended its personal gender options from male and female to 50 plus descriptions to cover gender assigned at birth, identified gender and trans, which covers a whole umbrella of descriptions under transgender.

‘By recognising the diversity of the workforce, what are the implications for how people are managed?’

By recognising the workforce is made up of such a diverse range of people are there implications for how people are managed? When we ignored sexuality and recognised only two genders it was easy to justify the claim that we treated everyone the same.

The HR/management gap

In my experience as an equality and diversity lead many managers (including senior managers) feel very uncomfortable around the area of sexuality and transgender, wishing to leave it to HR but that tends to result in a gap between HR policy and management practice.

The initial response is there is no difference between managing heterosexual staff and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff.

In theory there may be but in practice I have heard senior managers complain that the gay chief executive is surrounding himself with gay young men, that there is a “gay culture” in the organisation which excludes women managers from decision making forums.

On a more practical level I have heard managers ask how they should respond to flirting in the office when it is initiated by a gay colleague or – the one that always seems to come up in relation to a transgender member of staff – which toilets they can use.

Updating the unwritten rules

Do the unwritten rules of behaviour in the office need updating now that we are being more open about the diverse sexuality and gender of the workforce?

‘How do you create a safe working environment to have a truly open discussion to challenge myths and dispel stereotypes?’

More widely, how do you create a safe working environment to have a truly open discussion in order to challenge myths and dispel stereotypes? 

Now that more staff feel they can be open about their sexuality at work managers are encountering issues they have not come across before.

Some managers feel ill equipped, vulnerable and uncomfortable in much the same way as they might have done in addressing issues of race ten years ago.

The management skills are the same whether managing men or women, LGBT or heterosexual, but some of the issues are different and require an awareness and sensitivity to those issues.

More staff feeling they can be open about their sexuality is a measure of progress in terms of equality and diversity in the workplace, but it may not be welcomed by all staff.

Blair McPherson is author of An Elephant in the Room which tackles issues of equality and diversity in the work place.