Bullying. We all know what it looks like and for those who have been bullied the feeling is unforgettable. But bullying doesn't just evaporate once you've left school. It happens to adults too. YouGov polling for Stonewall has found that in the last five years one in five lesbian, gay or bisexual people were bullied at work by their colleagues – simply because of their sexual orientation. Almost a third of these were bullied by their own manager, usually the first port of call for support. And more than half had been bullied because of their sexual orientation by their own team.
The impact of failing to tackle homophobic and biphobic bullying is enormous. On an individual level the victim's performance inevitably suffers, as they try to carry out their role without triggering more abuse. There's the organisational impact too, as bullying affects everyone. Untackled bullying creates an unhealthy culture where offensive language goes unchecked until the point where the employer ends up in a series of industrial tribunals for constructive dismissal.
Stonewall's NoBystanders campaign sets out to tackle bullying and abuse, wherever it occurs. This Anti-Bullying Week (17-21 November), supporters are asked to join thousands of others across Britain by signing the pledge not to be a bystander. Among the thousands of supporters are Benny Higgins, CEO of Tesco Bank, as well as staff at City of Glasgow College, the University of Reading, NHS Tayside, Police Scotland, Dundee Council and Barclays UK.
Barely 10 years ago this level of support for gay staff was unthinkable. It was only in December 2003 that lesbian, gay and bisexual people were legally protected from discrimination and harassment. Until then gay staff could be verbally and physically abused, denied promotion, or be turned down for a post simply because of their sexual orientation. Once the new protections were introduced hundreds of cases were taken to tribunal with lesbian, gay and bisexual staff sharing stories of how they felt forced to resign to escape bullying and harassment.
In 2014 there were over 450 claims to an industrial tribunal of sexual orientation discrimination at work. As one in eight lesbian, gay and bisexual staff say that they don't feel confident enough to even report homophobic bullying in the workplace, it's likely that – just like homophobic hate crime – discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is underreported.
Employers can take many steps to combat bullying. You need robust anti-bullying policies in place and staff need to know that there's a zero tolerance approach to incidents. A senior leader championing diversity issues within an organisation also helps to set its tone, and support those members of staff uncertain about reporting bullying. They don't have to be lesbian, gay or bisexual – some of our most passionate advocates are allies – they just need a commitment to stamping out bullying.
People perform better when they can be themselves. Bullying prevents that. So to make 2014 the year you show we're beyond bullying, visit www.nobystanders.org.uk and download a resource pack to take the pledge and find out how you can play your part.
James Lawrence is the Communications Officer for Stonewall, one of the world's most visible and courageous LGBT activist groups. You can follow him on Twitter @JamieJ73 or find out more about Stonewall by visiting its website or Twitter feed.