I am one of the few openly Bi+ Chief Executive Officers in America today, and I know firsthand the importance of creating spaces of belonging for the Bi+ community in the workplace.
September 16th marked the beginning of Bisexual Awareness Week, a week providing vital opportunities to elevate bisexual, pansexual, and queer voices, as well as raise awareness of the unique issues facing the Bi+ community. As we celebrate Bisexual Visibility Day, I think back on my own journey as a member of the Bi+ community.
I know well the struggles presented in being a bisexual person in the workplace. Truthfully, at the beginning of my journey, I felt completely alone. Not knowing anyone at work who openly identified as bisexual, I remained in the closet. While colleagues of mine openly identified as gay or lesbian, I felt I couldn’t fully belong. Like many in the Bi+ community, I feared the rejection and stigma too often associated with Bi+ identity. Even more, I feared the impact it could have on my career.
Instead of expressing my true authentic self, I chose to come out as a lesbian in the workplace. I thought that identifying along the binary (gay versus straight) was safer and easier for people—both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ alike—to understand. While I received acceptance at work upon coming out, I knew deep down that I still wasn’t seen.
As many in the world of diversity and inclusion well know, inauthenticity has consequences. Knowing and experiencing these consequences, I finally mustered up the courage to come out in my home life as bisexual, and I was met with confusion and hesitation. Even years later, I can too easily recall the words of one of my family members: “I wish you were just a lesbian because that would be easier to understand.”
As member of the bisexual community, I know the journey to acceptance and belonging can be fraught with internal and external obstacles from navigating your own identity to fighting against stereotypes from both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ colleagues. From my vantage point as CEO of Out & Equal, I also know that companies can play a powerful role in elevating Bi+ voices and addressing the issues we face in the workplace. So, today, on Bisexual Visibility Day, here are a few important things that I want businesses know about bisexuality in the workplace:
- Members of the Bi+ Community are less likely to be out in the workplace than lesbian and gay peers.
Despite remarkable progress in LGBTQ workplace inclusion broadly, many Bi+ employees struggle with visibility and inclusion in the workplace. Pew Research reports that 28% of bisexual people have come out to the important people in their lives, compared to 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians. Additionally, gay and lesbian individuals are more likely than bisexual peers to say that their sexual orientation is a positive factor in their lives.
The Bi+ community’s struggle with visibility has serious impacts in the workplace. A study by Stonewall reveals that 38% of bisexual people are not out to anyone at work (compared to 18% of LGB people overall). Bi+ employees are often overlooked when it comes to inclusive policies and language, ERG programming, and benefits. The lack of representation of Bi+ people in leadership positions, especially in the C-suite, contributes to the stigma around coming out as Bi+ in the workplace. Bisexual erasure leads to lack of access to the resources, opportunities, and support members of the community need.
- The Bi+ community makes up much of the LGBTQ community, and those who identify as bisexual outnumber those who identify as gay or lesbian.
Though the Bi+ community struggles with a lack of visibility the workplace, it’s important to know that this is not due to small numbers. In fact, research estimates that there are more people who identify as Bi+ than lesbian and gay people combined.
When looking at the next generation of our American workforce, we see can see that bisexual, pansexual, and queer people will quite possibly be a majority. In a study by J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group only 48 percent of Gen Z respondents identified as exclusively heterosexual—meaning that just over half of Gen Z respondents identified somewhere on the spectrum of bisexuality. Workplaces that have already established or begin to now establish inclusion initiatives for this group will be far better prepared for their own futures.
Despite its considerable size, the unique needs of the Bi+ community often go unaddressed in the workplace and beyond. As bisexual employees are less likely to be out in the workplace, they are also less likely to self-identify their sexual orientation in anonymous human resource surveys—59% of bisexuals compared to nearly 80% percent of gays and lesbians. This figure indicates that employers are not fully capturing the breadth of needs facing Bi+ workers, which can affect employee retention, engagement, and upward mobility in the company.
- Bi+ employees regularly face stigma and negative stereotypes.
Frequently, the workplace is not a welcoming environment for Bi+ employees. Pervasive biphobia targets the legitimacy of bisexual, queer, pansexual and fluid identities and comes in many forms: jokes, stereotypes, non-inclusive language, and even abuse. Unfortunately, 43 percent of LGBTQ employees report hearing jokes specifically aimed at bisexuality.
In addition to hearing jokes, members of the Bi+ community are negatively stereotyped as promiscuous, unfaithful, and hypersexual. Bisexual identity is frequently delegitimized as many incorrectly believe think that members of the community are just confused, undecided, or have not come fully out of the closet yet.
Sentiments like these influence a Bi+ employee’s decision to come out or stay in the closet in the workplace. Furthermore, they set the stage for unfriendly workplace environments for Bi+ employees, which can negatively affect overall employee performance, productivity, and well-being.
- Bi+ Individuals often feel excluded by both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ peers.
Bi erasure is unfortunately reality for many in the Bi+ community. Bi+ voices and experiences are often excluded or erased in both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ spaces, including in LGBTQ resources, conversations around queer issues, and opportunities. Even in the LGBTQ community, Bi+ individuals fight against the stigma that bisexuality is just a phase or a front for lesbian or gay individuals who are too scared to come completely out of the closet. According to research by the Equality Network, nearly 70% of bisexual people can feel excluded by both the straight community and the LGBTQ community.
Though one’s relationship status does not determine their sexual orientation, bisexual people are often assumed to be straight or gay based on the gender of their partner or significant other. This assumption is just as common in LGBTQ spaces as it is in non-LGBTQ spaces. Thus, LGBTQ ERGs may not always feel like a safe space, especially those in different-gender relationships.
- The Bi+ Community needs allies in the workplace.
Clearly, there is much to be done to ensure Bi+ employees feel a sense of belonging in the workplace. Allies can play a critical role in this at every level. Here are just a few recommendations for creating more inclusive spaces for Bi+ employees:
- Celebrate Bisexual Awareness Week within your ERG, on your company’s social media platform, and through virtual programming to elevate Bi+ voices
- Offer LGBTQ educational resources and training to employees and management
- Offer domestic partner benefits that are inclusive of same and different gender partners
- Ensure there are Bi+ employees in your ERGs leadership roles
- Ensure your LGBTQ ERGS are inclusive of Bi+ people and programming – including those in different gender relationships
- Use inclusive language: Rather than asking “Do you have a husband/wife?”, ask “Do you have a partner/someone important in your life?”
- Consider that not everyone in a different-gender relationship identifies as straight, and not everyone in a same-gender relationship identifies as gay or lesbian
- Recognize that an individual’s relationship does not determine their sexual orientation
- Education plays a critical role in advancing inclusion and building cultures of belonging. Continue your education on Bi+ identities and inclusion at our upcoming Virtual Workplace Summit on October 5th-9th. Our Summit features a whole track of workshops dedicated to bisexual and queer identities. Check out the full list of options below:
- Bi Bi Baby – Parenting while Bi
- Bisexual, Person of Color, and a Womxn – 3 strikes
- Bisexuality and Pansexuality: Similarities, Differences, and Togetherness
- Free to B: Creating Community that Empowers Bisexual Men
- Resting Bi Face: We’re Looking At You
- Why Is It Challenging to Organize Around Bi+ Identities?