STAFF at Scottish colleges have complained that “preferential treatment” is given to gay, lesbian and bisexual colleagues.

An online poll of college staff found some heterosexual workers thought positive discrimination had gone “too far”.

However, the survey by UK charity Advance HE also highlighted serious concerns over discrimination against LGBT workers.

A report into the findings said: “A number of heterosexual survey respondents believed that LGB [sic] staff received preferential treatment through perceived positive discrimination and an LGB agenda pursued in the college sector.”

The report quoted one survey response which said a “large selection” of senior management were either gay, lesbian or bisexual.

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Another responded: “The LGB community have grabbed the agenda to the extent that the college is applying unlawful positive discrimination.”

However, the survey also highlighted a raft of negative experiences from lesbian and gay staff, including being the target of ‘patronising’ language and not having role models.

One lesbian said: “Without realising that they are discriminating, they can patronise individuals with their attempt at supporting staff.”

Another said: “There seems to be an embedded old school network of male staff within further education.

“The general consensus is that if you are female and assertive then you are usually labelled as difficult. This is also reflective of the attitude towards gay and lesbian staff, although mostly gay men.”

The report highlighted wider concerns over bullying and said a Scotland-wide series of mergers over the past decade had created “negative experiences”.

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The report said: “The research highlights several factors that have arisen as a result of the merger process that are negatively impacting on staff such as leadership changes, staff reductions and cross-campus travel.

“Some respondents explained their negative perceptions of management with reference to the merger, which was seen to have caused a shift in management style from very supportive to destructive.”

Several respondents commented on managers displaying poor communication leaving them feeling “ridiculed and patronised”.

The report called on sector body Colleges Scotland and staff trade unions to take action to address the concerns.

It concluded: “The research shows high levels of staff claiming to have experienced bullying and harassment at work and the need to promote a more inclusive staff culture.

“A significant finding ... is the level of bullying and harassment experienced by staff and approaches to better understanding and tackling this should be developed as a priority.”

Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, said getting workplace inclusion right would make a huge difference for many LGBT people.

He said: “Creating a workplace that accepts everyone isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.

“When staff feel comfortable and happy, they perform much better than if they’re having to hide who they are.”

Read more: LGBT Scots 'still face discrimination'

Shuwanna Aaron, women’s officer for student body NUS Scotland said colleges should be striving to set an example of tolerance and inclusiveness.

She said: “Colleges should be reading this report carefully, and taking demonstrable steps to clamp down on any instance of bullying.”

A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union said the past decade has been “challenging” for staff.

He said: “Mergers have had a profound impact on staff, with lecturers and support staff finding their posts made redundant or being expected to relocate to new institutions, often with significant implications for travel time, caring commitments and work-life balance.

“The levels of inequality identified in this report make for particularly troubling reading.”

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said the sector adhered fully to the 2010 Equalities Act.

She said the regionalisation process had created larger, more efficient colleges which were better able to provide for their communities.

Overall, the report concluded that staff “tended to agree” that colleges were committed to promoting equality and diversity.

The largest proportions of respondents who did not feel treated fairly were disabled and black and minority ethnic staff, who said areas of discrimination were recruitment, allocation of desirable tasks, support from management and promotion.

Both male and female staff shared similar perceptions of inequality towards men and women with regards to representation in senior positions, promotion decisions and recruitment.

Both men and women said they felt “excluded” on the basis of their gender and struggled to communicate with managers of the opposite sex.

The poll of some 2000 college workers received 25 additional comments on LGBT issues with more than half saying these staff members received preferential treatment.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: Our ambitions for the college sector include a well-trained and flexible workforce that meets students’ diverse needs, enabling them to reach positive destinations in further learning, training and employment.

"We fully expect colleges, their staff and students, together with representative bodies, to work closely together to promote equality and diversity and tackle discrimination in all they do."