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Respecting and valuing diversity in the workforce

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Improving health in the workplace

February is lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans history month -  a month, like Black History Month, where we celebrate and acknowledge the contribution made by LGBT people in the UK and reflect on their history and culture.

The Government has estimated that between 3 and 6% of the population identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or trans, although the Integrated Household Survey identified a figure of  1.5%,  a similar proportion to those identifying as the Hindu population in England and Wales in the 2011 Census. The true proportion, I am told by my public health colleagues, probably lies somewhere between the two and as people become more comfortable with routine data collection on sexual orientation in these kind of surveys the reported figure will likely increase to match the estimated level.

Many of you will remember the tensions and legal cases last year around the London bus adverts from Stonewall and the Core Issues Trust. This court case was one of several high profile cases and incidents based on conflict between religious and sexual identity, and it is a frequent topic of debate on Sunday morning chat shows and newspaper articles. It seems to be a perpetual argument about whose rights trump whose, rather than a discussion about how we are creating a society in which intolerance and discrimination are disappointingly common.

Discrimination in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation has been illegal since 2003, and was aligned with protection for some trans individuals, religious identity and other protected characteristics in the 2010 Equality Act. Yet research by Stonewall in 2013 found that:

  • one in five (19 per cent) lesbian, gay and bisexual employees have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service users because of their sexual orientation in the last five years
  • one in eight (13 per cent) lesbian, gay and bisexual employees would not feel confident reporting homophobic bullying in their workplace
  • a quarter (26 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers are not at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that although there has been a slight decrease in the overall figure, in 2012/13, the police recorded 4,267 sexual orientation hate crimes, and over half involved physical injury. We know that reported hate crimes for any identity group are likely to be the tip of the iceberg: Stonewall’s research in 2013 found that one in six  LGBT people had experienced a hate crime in the last three years, and we know that these crimes leave a legacy of both physical and mental ill health.

Discrimination on any grounds is something that has to be dealt with.  The law is clear and policies and procedures should reinforce the legal position that the workplace is somewhere that individuals should be free from bullying, harassment and abuse.

Within Public Health England, I have been pleased to see our staff working together to develop networks of support and community for our LGBT staff through the PHE Rainbow Alliance. My colleague, Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing, has taken up the mantle as the National Executive Champion for LGBT issues, and working with teams in the Health Protection and the Chief Knowledge Officer’s directorates has launched the development of a national framework for men who have sex with men, as one of the steps being taken to address the issues raised in the LGBT Companion to the Public Health Outcomes Framework published last year.

Equality and diversity work is often seen as an ‘add-on’ to the HR function, but it is fundamental to developing safe, supportive and productive workplaces, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in PHE to encourage and empower our diverse workforce to respect and value each other in everything that we do.

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  1. Comment by Bren posted on

    Hello Tony,

    Well put together blog and good that Kevin is the national executive champion. My thoughts around it being wider than HR is that it sits and lives in HR, when in fact (in my view) it doesn't and like culture, sits and is owned by everyone.

    Best wishes,


  2. Comment by Caryl Anne posted on

    I agree that diversity in the workplace should be seen as vital or important, but for most companies, it's not. In my opinion, it helps to form a better corporate culture and provide the company with more diverse knowledge. Those two elements could help any company excel within their industry. Thanks for sharing!