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Equality and diversity: Sexual orientation

Equality within employment is a right according to law. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are making advances towards achieving equality and the public consciousness, has over the last few years shifted for the better. As an indication of positive attitudes, hundreds of employers, including prominent graduate recruiters, have signed up to be ‘diversity champions’ with the campaigning organisation, Stonewall.

What are my legal rights?

Prejudice concerning sexual orientation is still prevalent within society and the workplace, but the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 have made an impact. The regulations cover both discrimination in selection and promotion in employment and the equally significant issue of harassment. Employers have a responsibility not only to act fairly themselves but also to prevent hostile activity, such as bullying, being carried out by employees.

The 2003 regulations apply to Britain; separate regulations came into effect in Northern Ireland in 2006. Enforcement is through employment tribunals. In taking up a case, claimants must follow laid down procedures carefully, so advice must be sought at all stages from bodies like the Citizens Advice Bureau and law centres.

Where can I find employers?

Changes in corporate culture are having an effect alongside legislation. Many employers have become more aware that it is in their own interests to recruit from the widest possible pool of applicants. Progressive employers have a stated policy of promoting diversity - encompassing, ethnicity, gender, disability and age as well as sexual orientation.

It’s possible that your sexual orientation could be relevant to competency questions asked both on application forms and in interviews.

When looking for employment you may want to pay particular attention to organisations that are Stonewall diversity champions or, in other ways, make clear a commitment to diversity or equal opportunities. If a company is proud of its record of social responsibility, it is likely also to want to be a fair employer.

How can I make my application successful?

Whether or not employers declare themselves pro-diversity, if you want them to select you, you must present the strongest possible case that you have the skills, attributes and qualifications they are asking for. Sexual orientation should not normally figure in selection processes. If you (or the recruiter) refer to it, it has to be in the context of showing how you meet the employer’s requirements for the job.

It’s possible that your sexual orientation could be relevant to competency questions asked both on application forms and in interviews. An instance of this would be if you had been an officer of the Lesbian and Gay Society at university. You might be able to tell the selectors how your activity in this role demonstrated your ability as an organiser and leader. Merely saying you had a post in a society would not be sufficient.

Another possible example would be where you had tackled an incident of homophobia - perhaps among your fellow students; in doing this you might have demonstrated skills valued by employers such as negotiation, team work and determination.

Employers look for employees who won’t rock their boat so an account of a dispute with other students would need to be carefully presented. However, employers who value diversity should appreciate an example from your life which shows you are used to building working relationships with people different from you.

If you do refer to your sexual orientation during the selection process always be positive about how it relates to the job you are seeking. Never apologise for it.

Should I disclose my sexual orientation?

Once you are in work, the question of how or whether you disclose your sexual orientatiom will arise. This is your personal decision. You may be the sort of person who always puts their sexuality out in the open, from the start. Or you may first want to form an opinion of the culture of your organisation and get to know your co-workers, before deciding on the next step.


Further information

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
September 2011

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