Tackling Homophobia in Hospitality

Preventing homophobia in the hospitality workplace


If you have been on social media recently, you will have noticed the number of companies who are replacing the standard colours of their logo with a rainbow flag.  The reason is that it is Pride month; a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) culture, history and the importance of how far the movement has come.  But it is also a time to consider the struggles that the LGBT community still face.


Ironically many organisations who are celebrating Pride have themselves got documented issues. 


About a third of LGBT people in the UK make the conscious decision not to disclose their sexuality within the workplace.  The reasons are varied, and whilst many feel that the hospitality industry is ahead of many traditional sectors, there is still a significant proportion who hide their private lives from colleagues and/or customers.  They are worried that they will receive abuse, homophobic bullying, be overlooked for promotions and be treated as second class employees.


The hospitality industry must work to prevent both homophobia, and the fear of homophobia, if it is to be seen as a genuinely equal employer, attract the very best, encourage new skill sets and take the moral high ground.


A good hospitality manager should begin by working in partnership with the team.  They must be on the lookout for subtle changes in behaviour that could suggest someone is struggling with their sexuality within the workplace.  This could be a dip in performance of an otherwise high performing individual or periods of absenteeism.


Clearly, these could be systematic of other issues too, and the manager needs to be careful with how they approach them. 


It’s important to emphasise that the manager doesn’t need an official complaint to act.  Everyone needs to understand that they have a duty of care to raise concerns.   Creating that culture should begin whatever the situation.  But it is also important that a formal note of any incidents is kept.


To begin your journey to preventing homophobia in the workplace, you need to make it clear that you will support employees irrespective of their sexuality.  But also skin colour, gender, age, beliefs etc.  You do this by initially building a sense of enablement among your team and secondly by setting not just a benchmark of behaviour which is better than previous, but industry leading.


Pride month is a fantastic opportunity for organisations to show solidarity with the LGBT community.  But you need to do more than recolour your logo.  You need to organise an “event” to spread the message that LGBT people should be celebrated. An event doesn’t have to be a physical gathering, it can be a product or service offering, an internal campaign; all sorts.  But it has also got to extend beyond pride week.


By combining understated gestures and forthright declarations, hospitality organisations can build an inclusive atmosphere that infiltrates each part of the organisation and ultimately the industry.  This does not need a huge budget.  It needs clarity of purpose, determination and leadership. 


The biggest area that organisations need to tackle is that of the “workplace banter.”  Whilst nobody is suggesting you should police fun or rule out the lighter side of a hospitality establishment, the banter can make someone feel like they are being bullied.  Whether that is the conscious decision of those making comment or not.


An unambiguous message must come from the leadership team around the importance of diversity and offer clear guidelines about what is, and what isn’t, acceptable. 


Of course it all starts with leadership and it is important that you hire the those who have the right mix of skills to manage people, personalities and processes. Those who become managers by accident or fall into the role without any support or training, can have a negative impact on addressing issues around equality.  Therefore support for leaders should be where initial action is put in.


Training then for the rest of the team is obviously the key, and it is important that a robust coaching programme is in place.


There are also other actions you can take, such as creating an environment that is accommodating, by installing gender-neutral toilets.  You can also encourage employees to attend local LGBT networking events, sponsor a Pride party or welcome speakers to share their experiences.  All of which creates the right environment. Also measuring results through anonymous surveys will not only create the culture that this is important, but allow you to track positive changes and identify areas of concern.


There are many opportunities for hospitality organisations to promote diversity and prevent homophobia.  Change, of course, will not be immediate.  But taking steps towards not just a tolerant workplace but an inclusive environment is the right thing to do. It also makes great business sense.  Who doesn’t want the LGBT community on-board and promoting the business, or the very best employees working for your establishment?  


Posted by: Learn Train Recruit