How homophobic bullying costs engineering industry £11bn

Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, Alec Shelbrooke.
Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, Alec Shelbrooke.
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BILLIONS of pounds is lost from the engineering sector every year due to homophobia and outdated attitudes, new research has shown.

The macho culture of some firms forces people to remain ‘in the closet’ over their sexuality and a lack of ease in the workplace has been a barrier to career progression.

Bullying and pressure on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) engineers means £11.2bn fails to materialise within the engineering economy a year due to lack of productivity and people feeling locked out of the industry.

The investigation commissioned by ex-mechanical engineer and Yorkshire MP Alec Shelbrooke and authored by Dr Mark McBride-Wright aims to show how the industry can make significant changes.

They would like to see all engineering firms adopting diversity and inclusion policies and ensure that boards are taking the issue seroiusly.

Mr Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, said: “This report not only highlights the prevalence of homophobia in the engineering industry, but also lays out a proactive approach for the sector to tackle this issue head-on.”

He said that while homophobia within the construction industry is well documented, little is known about its place within engineering, despite 5.4m people employed in the sector across the UK.

Only 46 per cent of gay engineers surveyed said they would be comfortable being out about their sexuality in the workplace, and 53 per cent said that they were not open about their sexuality at work, or were ‘closeted’.

The international nature of engineering work means that many also have to struggle with homophobic laws abroad, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

The survey also showed that 33% of gay engineers said they felt their sexuality had acted as a barrier to career progression.

One of those interviewed as part of the research said: “I personally have experienced very substantial evidence of homophobic culture in the laddish environment of civil engineering offices, and would certainly not have dared come out before retirement.”

Former Chief Executive of BP, Lord Browne of Madingley, who is backing the report, said: “As a graduate trainee engineer at BP in the 1960s, it was immediately obvious to me that being gay in business, and most definitely in the oil business, was unacceptable. Even as chief executive of BP in the 21st century, I was worried coming out of the closet would damage critical business relationships.

"Hiding my sexuality made me deeply unhappy, and I was a more reserved leader."

“It shows that when people are not comfortable bringing their whole selves to work they do not engage and productivity suffers as a result.”

Engineering firms and the Government are now being called-to-arms to address inclusion, as so far only employers BP, EDF Energy, and the Armed Forces feature in the leading LGBT rights charity Stonewall’s 2015 Workplace Equality Index.

Recommendations include establishing a diversity and inclusion policy, flexible policies for those working overseas and training in unconscious bias.

Dr McBride-Wright, who works for industry LGBT network group InterEngineering, said: “Progress and acceptance within the workplace for those in the LGBT community is hindered by homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language, both in the office and on site.

“For example, using ‘gay’ as an expression denoting something negative. I have experienced this. It may be casual banter for some, but for me it resonates with childhood bullying and must be challenged and stopped.”

Mr Shelbrooke added: “The basis of this report is to recommend that homophobic attitudes can be transformed through proactive, educational teamwork and leadership.

"Companies that have adopted such an approach have seen up to a 30% increase in productivity from openly LGBT employees as a direct result of a happier and more cohesive workplace."