How far have we come with LGBT+ welfare in higher education and employment?

A new report indicates that only 38% of LGBT+ people at university and 42% in the workplace say their sexuality is public knowledge – compared with 93% and 80% of their non-LGBT+ counterparts.

11 October 2019 marks the 31st annual National Coming Out Day, an event which recognises and celebrates LGBT+ activism in its purest form through members of the community being able to live their lives openly and authentically. It is an opportunity to reflect upon the power in sharing stories to create an inclusive, accepting environment for the next generation of LGBT+ young people.

LGBT+ young people are 35% more likely to report having depression, whilst trans people are much more likely to experience harassment. LGBT+ students are also more likely to use drugs whilst at university and one in seven report experiencing temporary homelessness, with rates even higher for LGBT+ BAME people.

These statistics represent some of the key findings from the Out and Proud report, a study aiming to highlight the experiences of LGBT+ young people in higher education and employment. The report, commissioned by Clifford Chance, Deutsche Bank, the University of York and National Student Pride is one of the biggest of its kind to date, exploring the wellbeing of the 4,139 young people taking part, 44% of whom identify as LGBT+.

The study builds upon similar research projects including the Stonewall ‘LGBT in Britain – University report’, and the government’s “national LGBT study”, which found LGBT+ people to be less satisfied with their life than the general UK population.

Disproportionately affected

Loneliness, social isolation and a lack of belonging are all contributing factors linked to the increased likelihood of depression in LGBT+ young people. These issues can be exacerbated when starting at a new university or workplace. Research has shown there is a clear link between being open about one’s sexuality and wellbeing; LGBT+ people however are significantly less likely to be open about their sexuality in new environments, citing fears judgment or discrimination. Students from different cultures and ethnic minorities face further challenges with both fitting in and coming out.

Whilst a higher proportion of graduates are out by the time of employment, they still face the same reluctance to be open about their sexuality in the workplace. Previous research by Stonewall identified 62% of graduates go back into the closet when they enter the job market. In addition, it has been shown that LGBT+ people whose sexuality is public are more likely to experience discrimination and be subject to sexual harassment.

It can get better

One in two students place an importance on having a diverse and inclusive environment at university. Universities should therefore ensure the relevant and functional support services and networks are in place and establish policies that show a clear commitment to inclusivity and improving the experience of LGBT+ students. Students’ Unions are identified in having an important role in collaborating with LGBT+ societies, to lead on communication and increase LGBT+ awareness through sharing stories; promoting internal role models and celebrating LGBT+ visibility events such as National Coming Out day in addition to Pride,

National Student Pride (NSP) is a pivotal organisation in the dialogue between universities and their LGBT+ students, who work with universities across the country by bringing LGBT+ societies together. The One Network is a new student network launched by NSP to promote a collaborative approach between heads of LGBT+ university societies across the UK share best practice and create a more unified experience for LGBT+ students. Ensuring collaboration between students’ unions, NSP and career services is key to creating a successful, inclusive university environment.

Addressing the transition from university to the workplace with subject specific career fairs was found to be the preferred method of engagement for LGBT+ students with prospective employers. LGBT+ students are likely to be interested in slightly different career paths, and NSP works closely with universities to facilitate a meaningful relationship between students and employers. NSP host the largest annual gathering of LGBT+ students, with the largest LGBT+ careers fair in the UK. Taking place in London in February, it offers an opportunity for attendees to further their career, engage with activism within the community.

Commitment to a diverse and inclusive environment is also key for employers, and students positively noted those employers who promoted their inclusive initiatives including LGBT+ networks, safe spaces, lanyards and gender- neutral bathrooms. Encouraging employers that come on campus to talk about their inclusion and diversity policies, as well as how they support LGBT+ graduates, is seen to be effective.

Universities and employers should continue to expand their networks to share best practise in improving the working environment for LGBT+ people and foster a supportive culture. Studies have continually shown that those who are able to be their authentic selves, be it at work or university, flourish and develop their full potential.

National Student Pride takes place in 2020 at the University of Westminster and G-A-Y Heaven on the weekend of 21-23 February www.studentpride.co.uk

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