Fujitsu's Paul Patterson and Karen Thomson

Out, proud and at ease in the workplace

Image credit: Phil Adams

The proportion of people identifying as heterosexual in the UK is falling, especially among younger generations, but individuals are still afraid to be ‘out’ at work. What could organisations do to create inclusive workplaces where LGBTQ+ employees can be completely themselves and thrive?

LGBTQ+ inclusion of employees in the workplace is still not a guarantee for every organisation. About one in five LGBT employees have experienced verbal bullying at work because of their sexual orientation, and people keep themselves ‘in the closet’ because they believe it would be career-limiting to be ‘out’.

Companies must strive to do their part and ensure that everyone, no matter their gender or sexuality, feels comfortable, safe, and able to be themselves.

In the UK, a national LGBT survey by the Government Equalities Office revealed that 19 per cent of respondents with a job had not been open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with any colleagues at the same or lower level, while 30 per cent were not open with more senior colleagues.

Furthermore, nearly a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) had experienced a negative or mixed reaction from others in the workplace due to being LGBT, or being thought to be LGBT. Most said they had not reported the most serious incident, mainly because they thought it would not be worth it, or nothing would happen or change.

Setting the scene

LGBT survey statistics

The Government Equalities Office’s recent LGBT survey found that 80 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals aged between 16 to 64 had been employed in the survey’s preceding 12 months, and 65 per cent of trans women and 57 per cent of trans men had a job.

Eleven per cent had experienced someone disclosing they were LGBT without their permission, 11 per cent had experienced unspecified inappropriate comments or conduct, and 9 per cent had received verbal harassment, insults or hurtful comments.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the percentage of people identifying as heterosexual in the UK has continued to decrease, especially among younger people.

Using data from the annual population survey, ONS found that in 2017, 93.2 per cent of people aged 16 or over – about 49.2 million – said they were heterosexual, down from 93.4 per cent the previous year and from 94.4 per cent in 2012.

The proportion who self-identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual (2 per cent, or 1.1 million) was unchanged from the previous year. The proportion who ticked ‘other’ increased from 0.5 per cent to 0.6 per cent.

4.1 per cent did not answer the question.

What can organisations do to make a positive impact?

Stonewall, a charity working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the UK, recently completed its Top 100 Employer List for 2019. This considered each organisation’s work over the past year to help achieve acceptance without exception for all LGBT people.

The highest placed engineering or tech organisation was Fujitsu at number 34. This is the fourth consecutive year the Japanese multinational IT equipment and services company has appeared on the list. It climbed 66 places to its highest ever ranking in 2019.

As well as being on the list, Fujitsu is the first Japanese company to publicly express support for the UN’s LGBTI (I for intersex) business standards. It also has a zero-​tolerance policy on bullying or harassment.

Fujitsu says that to design inclusive technology solutions, it needs to create inclusive workplaces where LGBTQ+ talent can be completely themselves and thrive, and aspires to make inclusive systems so no conscious or unconscious bias is unintentionally embedded into its work.

We asked Fujitsu employees who champion LGBTQ+ inclusivity, or who consider themselves part of the community, what they thought set the company apart from the rest.

Karen Thomson, diversity and inclusion lead at Fujitsu UK&I, says what makes it the most LGBTQ+ inclusive tech company is its progression across all areas of employee inclusion. “We have improved the language in our processes, expanded diversity and inclusion training to highlight LGBTQ+ case studies, launched targeted initiatives such as a reverse mentoring scheme, and started collecting data on our trans colleagues,” she explains. “We have also engaged colleagues across the whole organisation to embed LGBTQ+ inclusivity, from procurement and HR to sales. All these initiatives ensure we are an LGBTQ+ inclusive organisation.”

Mel Woolfenden, senior Oracle customer solutions architect, and a chair of Fujitsu’s Shine LGBT+ network, says the reverse mentoring programme involves LGBTQ+ people being paired with a senior leader to share their experiences, including how they have found communications and the culture. “The reverse mentoring initiative has really engaged senior leaders to understand the influence they have over the organisational culture and has given them practical actions they can do to create an inclusive culture for LGBTQ+ talent,” she adds.

According to Thomson, 26 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees in UK workplaces are not open about their sexual orientation. “I have heard of times where LGBTQ+ talent have gone ‘back into the closet’ when they move roles within an organisation. Fujitsu’s diversity and inclusion campaign – #BeCompletelyYou – encourages people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions to be completely themselves at work. It is through this campaign we have supported colleagues to come out in the workplace, transition in the workplace and helped relatives support LGBTQ+ loved ones.”  

The company’s LGBT+ network also created an online monthly meeting called T&Coffee, which supports employees who are transitioning, thinking about transitioning, or are curious about trans people. “This has helped trans employees feel welcome, comfortable and safe being completely who they are at Fujitsu,” says Thomson.

Paul Patterson, SVP, EMEIA sales and country leadership (also chair of Fujitsu’s Responsible Business Board, which oversees diversity and inclusion initiatives), says the experiences employees have at Fujitsu are important to how engaged they will be, how they will perform “and, ultimately, will determine whether they are proud to work for us. These initiatives allow me to personally make a difference to LGBTQ+ employees’ experience, and that is a real motivator.”

He says the company listens, which is the most important thing. “Everyone’s experience is different, and it is only by truly understanding LGBTQ+ experiences at Fujitsu that we can take the right actions to ensure all our people feel they can be completely themselves and succeed.”

According to Patterson, research suggests we require three role models who we identify with to believe it’s possible for us to succeed. He says promoting LGBTQ+ role models throughout Fujitsu helps highlight its inclusive culture. “Anyone thinking of joining Fujitsu is given a ‘Be Completely You’ booklet, highlighting these diverse role models and promoting inclusion events we celebrate. This gives a snapshot into our culture and our approach to diversity and inclusion,” he adds.

Patterson recently hosted an LGBTQ+ round-table with senior leaders, where they listened to experiences of LGBTQ+ employees, seeking recommendations to better embed inclusivity. He now wears a rainbow lanyard to signal he is an active ally, and key themes discussed during the event will be implanted into manager training.

Daniel Thomas, an applications architect at Fujitsu, reckons that since the company’s LGBTQ+ network has become one of its core communities, exposure of LGBTQ+ conversations has increased. “More people feel confident to be completely themselves. Network members are given a rainbow lanyard to wear. This is a simple but effective way of showing support to LGBTQ+ colleagues and sparking those all-important conversations about what we do and why.”

Woolfenden feels it’s important that authentic messages from the top down continue to create a respectful culture where everyone is equally valued. “A recent report found that 28 per cent of LGBTQ+ CEOs in UK organisations had been advised to hide their sexual orientation at work,” she says. “I would like to see more visible LGBTQ+ role models in senior positions to reassure LGBTQ+ employees today that being ‘out’ is not career limiting.”

Woolfenden says one of the differences in Fujitsu is that the LGBTQ+ network is integrated into the business. “We support employees and managers, champion LGBTQ+ inclusivity throughout different parts of Fujitsu and actively campaign for change, to make Fujitsu a more diverse and inclusive place to work.”

Another initiative is Fujitsu’s Diversity Matters town-hall meetings with the CEO and president of Fujitsu EMEIA. The town halls move around the country and engage colleagues and allies with the topic of diversity and inclusion. “All these actions help foster an inclusive culture from the top down,” says Woolfenden.

Thomas says that from day one, it was clear that it was ‘OK to be you’ at Fujitsu, and the company understands everyone works best when supported to embrace who they are. “In the various places I have worked in my career, I have never felt as accepted to be completely me as I do here,” he adds.

“Fujitsu really does understand that diversity is what makes an organisation stronger. This isn’t a superficial campaign or an HR initiative, this change is deeply embedded in how we do business. These are real LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies, using their experience and understanding to make real change.”


Stonewall’s Top 100 Employer List 2019

445 employers submitted to the 2019 workplace equality index. Of those:

80 per cent of entrants enabled non-LGBT allies to signal their commitment to LGBT equality, for example, through email signatures, lanyards and mugs.

73 per cent of entrants used their social media and online presence to demonstrate commitment to LGBT equality.

59 per cent of entrants collaborated with other organisations on an initiative to promote LGBT equality in the wider community.

46 per cent of entrants supported LGBT employees to become visible role models through training, programmes and resources.

42 per cent of senior management teams engaged with their board to discuss LGBT equality.

34 per cent of employee network groups implemented formal mechanisms to ensure trans identities were represented in activity, and 29 per cent had done so for bisexual identities.

31 per cent of entrants offered diversity and inclusion training or guidance to their procurement team, inclusive of LGBT equality content.

27 per cent of employee network groups run mentoring or coaching programmes.

See more at

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles