Gay engineers still fear “coming out” at work

Posted on 22 Jul 2014 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Nearly half of gay and lesbian engineers hide their sexuality from their work colleagues, according to a survey for the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) magazine.

The survey shows that 41.8% say they are not open at work about their sexuality, compared to just over 45% who say they are.

Reasons for keeping their sexuality secret included fear of backlash from colleagues, one person surveyed said: “I have tried hinting to colleagues about my orientation, but this has only resulted in me becoming a laughing stock.”

Others felt senior management would not approve of their sexuality: “You do sometimes hear homophobic remarks by senior managers. This does not send a reassuring message.”

However, some felt that being open about who they are was not relevant to their job role and they did not want to make others feel uncomfortable.

Only 7.7% of respondents said they had experienced homophobic comments in the workplace, which may signal a changing, more tolerant industry, but the overwhelming majority of these engineers were those who were not open about their sexuality.

One respondent said: “My colleagues make homophobic comments. Because I am not ‘out’ I feel safe challenging them.”

Some female respondents felt they were being discriminated against at work for being female as well as gay.

However, it is not just social functions that many LGBT engineers feel excluded from.

Around 17% feel that their sexuality created a barrier to their career progression.

Some noted a clear decrease in casual conversations when their managers discovered their orientation, which led to less professional interaction.

One individual said: “I was overlooked for promotions, hence my departure to another company.”

Several engineers felt their careers had been hindered due to the public perception of the traditional engineer, saying the main barrier to promotion was not fitting the archetypal engineering manager mould. Another individual said: “A straight man, married to a wife who is happy to look after the children while you travel.”

Another, working in the defence industry, was told during an appraisal that he needed to be “more alpha-male to succeed in the UK defence industry”.

Some even feel they have lost their jobs due to discrimination at managerial level.