When the Legal Profession Tries to Create an Inclusive Workplace Environment for Bisexual People

By Bendita Cynthia Malakia
Global Diversity & Inclusion Lead
Hogan Lovells US LLP

 

In May, I had the honor of sharing my perspectives on biphobia and the impact of its attendant myths and misperceptions on bisexual lawyers in a webinar for the Chicago Bar Association and Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession. Following, I received a question from a self-identified “60+ year old white male” who wanted to know if there is something more he could be doing to make his bisexual teammates “as comfortable as his lesbian and gay male colleagues”. He also asked whether he should “ignore” the fact of those individuals’ bisexual identity or address it, wanting the human answer rather than the employment law answer.

I love this question for the underlying current of care that it embodies, including a desire to get this “right”. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a way to get these questions of identity right all the time, as there is no silver bullet that works for supporting every single person who identifies as bisexual because identity is individual.

As a starting perspective, just like other individuals on your team, understanding who they are as people is key. Give people room to share their identities in direct and indirect ways, without expressing surprise or condemnation. If someone does “come out” as bisexual, do state your support in a clear and non-overly-indulgent way, and a willingness to be challenged when they aren’t feeling included.

My gut says that if you have truly created a work environment and team where other LGBT+ teammates feel that they can develop, advance and be their authentic selves, you are already on your way to ensuring that your bisexual colleagues have as positive of an experience.

Some relatively simple guidance to help you:

  • When talking about LGBT+ issues among your team or in the workplace, ask “does this conversation not reflect the bisexual experience”? Understanding that bisexuality is often invisible, offer opportunities to make it visible by asking for additional perspectives when known sexual orientation minorities or straight people are dominating the conversation.
  • Do not assume gender when discussing family or relationships. Use “partner,” “significant other”, “they” or other gender-neutral language.
  • Similarly, interrupt binary language and the systems that support them. Assuming something is for men or women can feel othering when that doesn’t align with someone’s experience.
  • Disrupt jokes about bisexuality related to promiscuity, indecisiveness, and being a unicorn (while I find this empowering, many may find that it exacerbates bi-erasure).
  • Do not assume someone is not bisexual because they are currently with one or more same-gender or opposite gender partners. Regardless of who their current partner is, they have the right to have access to LGBT+ spaces and opportunities directed specifically to the broader LGBT+ community.
  • Some individuals in both LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ communities have multiple partners. As with sexual orientation or gender identity, whether you believe that is a right way to live has nothing to do with whether we should make people feel included. Try expanding beyond using the singular or +1 for invitations.

As with all identities we are not as familiar with, introspection and honesty regarding the privilege that we hold and the biases we have are critical. Rather than ignore, as a leader, start with self-education. Here are some resources that might help:

Based on the question, I am confident that you will do your best to ensure a welcoming environment for your bi+ colleagues. Leading with humility, a desire to learn, and understanding that you may make mistakes as with encountering any new area for you is the best attitude to have to ensure all your people will thrive.