Young South African Lesbians Speak Out

All about Young South African Lesbians in the Workplace, Work and being Gay in South Africa, Discrimination and Challenges in the Workplace, Young Lesbians and Work and more on Mywage South Africa.

Young lesbians from South African speak out about the issues and challenges that they face:

Preparing For the World of Work

Lesbians are entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals. However, if you are a lesbian you have to deal with the law and how it does not relate to your own lived experiences. We are also forced to conform to the standards set by the world, even if we do not necessarily agree with it. As students looking for employment we find challenges in the following:

Interviewing for a Job

“There are certain unwritten rules which are sometimes not even explicitly stated but are powerful and place you at a disadvantage.”

“There is an assumption that if you are a woman you need to dress “feminine”, meaning that you must wear a skirt or dress. To look “beautiful” means that you must wear make up and high heels. Sometimes you are expected to even wear stockings and have to look sensual and willing to please.”

“If you disclose that you are a lesbian you risk losing the possibility of employment or you are usually persuaded to either get your act straight or forced to change because no company wants to associate with lesbians.”

“One of the students was humiliated when a receptionist laughed and asked if her if she was a man or woman and advised her to dress appropriately next time. “I was so humiliated and angry that I decided not to go for the second interview when they called me”. “

“If you look “butch” but excel in the interview, very few companies will consider you. They will rather choose a feminine under performer than a “butch” excellent candidate.”

“Once you are there, look around at the people and the environment and decide whether you want to work there or not. It is sometimes very important to do research beforehand to find out if you will have support, but even this is not always accurate. In most cases if you look at the company’s policy you might be convinced that they are not homophobic but your lived experience is the only thing that can guarantee this.”

“Be prepared for the interview. Wear comfortable clothes, but dress neatly. Do not wear jeans nor men’s clothes, but at the same time do not create a feminine impression you can’t maintain.”

“The danger of feeling compelled to dress up like a women is that if I look like a woman, society is going to read me like a woman. The value society puts on a woman is not the same as the value put on a man.”

“Entering the job market is the most difficult stage but once you are in maybe people can get the opportunity of knowing you and can then judge you on the work you deliver and not who you are.”

“You need to focus. Get in first before you start challenging things.”

Promotion

“If you are lucky and manage to get employed the chances of promotion are very limited. People discriminate against you and even lose sight of your competence. They get carried away with your sexual orientation and forget about your deliverables and who you are. A worker’s competence is not evaluated on who she sleeps with but how good she does her job. But if you are a lesbian who you sleep with becomes the yardstick of how people view or relate to you.”

True experiences:

“I was in the army in 1993 and left my job a year ago because things were unbearable. One of my colleagues, a woman, knew I was a lesbian and spread rumors about me and my partner who was married and got divorced to be with me. Fortunately in the army we all wear browns and we all looked the same, but still people had issues about us. I’m still not sure what people think about us. They might think we are just like animals and grab each other and have sex at any given moment. 

My colleague would tell me she was leaving the office for thirty minutes, then return in ten minutes. I think she was hoping that she would find us on the floor. When she discovered that she could not catch us after trying for a year, she started being nasty and everyone was horrible towards me. Out of frustration because I’m human, I became very restless, I started making mistakes and I was given a final written warning. My boss started being horrible to me, it was as if I was still in high school.  I was called names and my colleague told me that someone is going to lay a charge against me. I decided to resign before I could be dismissed as I would have been dismissed anyway.”

Preparing a CV

You do not have to state your sexual orientation on your CV. Women have a variety of responses to this:

“It is not a prerequisite that you need to disclose in your CV because all people do not state on their CV the people they have sex with. But you do not have to actively hide it.”

“It is important to go as yourself, however there could be possible challenges that you need to note. Let’s say the employer decides to take you for a sleep-over induction session. The first assumption is that all women are heterosexual and you might be expected to share a room. You might not have a problem but your colleague might be offended after she realises that you are a lesbian. These are the realities that might force you to disclose.”

“Leave out the things in your CV that might cost you getting the job as our sexual orientation is not the most important thing.”

“If the company is anti-gay do not take a chance because you won’t last. If the company is not gay unfriendly you can start your work and transform it.”

Benefits

Fighting for your benefits, such as shared medical insurance or Family Responsibility Leave, can be hard. 

“There are consequences of coming out in the workplace but sometimes you do not have a choice but to disclose. People immediately assume that when you refer to a partner you are referring to a man.”

“When you go to HR and want to apply for a medical aid or other benefits, the body language of the HR practitioner immediately reminds you that you are speaking about something foreign. “

“Most companies have not customised their policies and language to accommodate same sex couples and marriages. This can lead to same sex partners taking longer than usual to apply for their benefits. Often applying for benefits expedites the coming out even before one is ready to handle the pressure that comes with it.”

“Being questioned about staying at home and taking care of your partner’s child can be difficult.”

“The power relations are strong if a young person is looking for a job. If your director asks a question about lesbian’s relationships, you feel compelled to answer her and take extra time and pain to make her understand while you don’t feel pressured when asked by peers.”

“The HR practitioner will take time explaining to you about sexual harassment because their assumption is that you are going to fondle female workers and kill all men. If the same energy was used to explain to men the penalty of sexual harassment, we would not have such high incidents as they will be aware of the sanction and possible punishment.”

“How you step in and navigate your way is going to be by trial and error.”

A positive story – Nomande and her workplace*

“It’s not perfect, but the policies are in place which make it a very friendly environment,” says Nomande, who has been working at a large multinational for several years.

“During induction the diversity manager tells everyone about their policy of inclusion and the commitment of the company to ensure that there is no discrimination based on gender, race, disability and sexual orientation. However, you still find that there are managers who ill-treat you because you are gay.”

“I joined the company five years back and now the company has a couple of transgender staff.”

“People find it easy to come out and disclose because there are sensitivity programmes and our HR practitioners and benefits are gay friendly but this is still highly dependent on the country where the company is operating. You might find that it is more difficult in the Middle East as compared to South Africa. Here one can get up to three months for adoption leave, which is the best compared to many other countries.”

Nomande continues. “Having support from home also helps fight some of your battles. I am confident because I know that my family loves me even if my neighbours and community might not like me.”

She says that: “Promotion is possible based on your performance and I’ve never felt any prejudice.”

*Name and workplace changed

Read more

Find out more about your Rights in the Workplace.  Also, read more about Lesbians and Discrimination.

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