Sheffield man reveals daily battle for some LGBT+ employees when revealing their sexuality in the workplace

(L-R) Mark Scott pictured with his partner Steve Slack
(L-R) Mark Scott pictured with his partner Steve Slack

A man Sheffield has shared his experience of hiding his sexuality as a gay man in the workplace, after a new study revealed that one in 10 of LGBT+ employees are encouraged to do so by their colleagues.

Mark Scott, 52, who lives with his partner Steve Slack and their two daughters in Nether Edge, has revealed the daily battle that many members of the LGBT+ community face when it comes to concealing their sexuality at work. 

It comes after a new study by the charity Business in the Community claimed that 9 per cent of LGBT+ employees have been encouraged by colleagues to hide their sexuality to prevent being discriminated against. 

And, that figure rises to nearly one in three at senior level, with 28 per cent of LGBT+ business owners, CEOs and managing directors actively concealing their sexuality at work  to prevent being discriminated against. 

It also showed that nearly a quarter felt uncomfortable about being open when it came to their sexual orientation. 

Mark, who is now self employed and works as an LGBT coach and mentor, worked in a senior role within HSBC for over 25 years, and has hid his sexuality numerous times within his career.

He said: “I first joined in the 90s, and didn't disclose my sexuality for several years. I actually came out by accident, I didn't really have a choice. I was bringing up two kids at the time, and Steve rang saying he was busy and one of the kids was ill so they needed picking up.

“My boss hadn’t come in that day, so I was sat waiting thinking I could make up a story or I could tell the truth. Eventually she came in, and I pulled her to one side and said I need to tell you something and I knew I needed to tell her the honest reason. 

“I said look I live with my same-sex partner, and I need to go home because of some childcare issues. She just turned to me and didn’t say anything for a minute, but then she said ‘that's fine. I was so worried I thought you were going to tell me you were leaving’.”

He explained that for heterosexual males, family is something that is openly discussed but for some homosexual males it can take time to open up as some fear discrimination.

He added: “I was very selective in my coming out after that, I was within a very tradition organisation and some people were accepting but I still felt selective and cautious. 

“I was a global manager working with different cultures and travelling to places such as China, and India so disclosing to those was a no-no. 

“You also have colleagues and people at work constantly asking questions about your life, are you married? do you have children? LGBT people go through a rapid risk assessment in their head when they answer these questions, you edit yourself and your answers so you don’t identify the gender or the sexual pronouns.

“You think how do I respond? Is it safe to respond to this person in this way? It can happen in a split second. As a gay person I do a risk assessment, can I be authentic? Is it OK to reveal that part?”

The annual report, titled “Seizing the Momentum” is based on findings from a YouGov panel survey of 4,626 full and part-time employees in the UK.

It found that 72 per cent of people in the LGBT+ community have experienced a mental health issue in the workplace, compared to 61 per cent of non-LGBT+ workers.

Mark spoke of an ‘invisible stigma’ that is not obvious to everyone, but can be a reason why LGBT+ workers choose not to talk about their sexual orientation, and might be why so many experience mental health issues.

“Fear is a major component as to why so many people don’t disclose” he said. “They think of the potential bullying that might come along with that, the risk of not getting a promotion, it’s the fear of the unknown.

“With disclosure, its normally the fear of what might happen that is normally greater than what happens. Even when they do come out, LGBT people are in the minority and as with any minority you need to be made to feel included and equal.”

“I was in a meeting with senior managers, two people in to room started making gay derogatory comments towards another man who had been in the news. I sat there looking down thinking what am I going to do. 

“They stopped for a while then carried on, so I said look I’m going to have to stop you, as a gay man I find it very insulting what you are saying. It still goes on, even in diverse organisations.”

Mark says organisations need to implement a zero per cent tolerance policy for inappropriate language around LGBT discriminatory language. 

He said: “People laugh it off an say it doesn’t matter, that they don't mean anything by it but it does matter and will impact them as to whether they feel safe coming out.

“Organisations need to have the right components and framework in place to be an inclusive workplace. They need to have a role model programme and an LGBT network to offer support and mentoring which is supported by the organisation and from those in senior roles so there is someone to talk to, and to help them navigate things.”

2018 marks the third year that the ‘Seizing the Momentum’ report has been conducted and its authors state that despite huge strides being made in terms of raising the profile of mental health, there is a lot more work to be done.