How employees and employers can come out as LGBTQ at work

As LGBTQ Pride Month runs through June, efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion have once again come into the spotlight.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order expanding access to gender-affirming care and inclusive education in an effort to combat a series of state anti-LGBTQ laws introduced across the country this year.

But still, in many places, anti-LGBTQ discrimination remains rampant – particularly, in some cases, in the workplace.

In the US, more than two in five (45.5%) of LGBTQ workers said they have experienced unfair treatment at work, including being fired, not hired or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives. , according to a 2021 survey by the Williams Institute. A third (31.1%) reported having tried it in the last five years.

In the UK, one in five (18%) of LGBTQ employees said they had been the target of negative comments or conduct from co-workers, according to charity Stonewall.

This, in turn, is increasing friction among employees who feel they can’t be themselves at work.

In a June survey by LinkedIn and YouGov, three-quarters (75%) of LGBTQ respondents said it’s important to work at a company where they feel comfortable expressing their identity, and two-thirds (65%) said they would leave their current job. work if they felt they could not do it.

Meanwhile, how a company responds to LGBTQ issues also matters: more than a third (36%) said they would leave their current job if their employer did not speak out against discrimination.

Speaking to CNBC, CEO of global HR consultancy Randstad, Sander van ‘t Noordende, said employers need to do more to create an inclusive and open workplace for LGBTQ employees.

Van ‘t Noordende, who is out, noted that he wasn’t always a big supporter of LGBTQ rights early in his career, preferring not to make it a central tenet of his leadership. But increasingly, he said, it is vital for leaders to speak out on social issues.

“Frankly, I wasn’t a great role model, to be honest, initially,” he said last month. “I was out and about and did my thing, but I never talked much about LGBTQ issues.”

“But at some point later in my career, I said, ‘No, I shouldn’t just be out, I should be there more,'” he continued. “Younger people in all organizations are looking to their leaders and looking for role models.”

How LGBTQ Employees Can Come Out at Work

Of course, any decision to come out in the workplace must, and ultimately, be up to the individual, noted van ‘t Noordende: “Organizations can do a lot, but at the end of the day you have to jump, you have to take that risk. “.

For those considering coming out to their peers, there are a few considerations that can help you through the process, according to Anna Clark-Miller, founder and trainer of Empathy Paradigm, a US-based LGBTQ mental health consultancy.

First, identify your support system. Who do you have in your personal life who are you with and who can support you in this process? If you want to come out at work but haven’t come out in your personal life, it might be too much of an initial step, said Clark-Miller, who suggested coming out first to a loved one.

Typically, many clients come out to one person first – someone inclusive or maybe LGBTQ.

Anna Clark Miller

founder and coach, Empathy Paradigm

Next, think about your motivations for coming out at work. If you want to address some discriminatory comments within your team, it may be best to first report the issue to your HR manager before proceeding. But if, instead, you simply want your sexuality to be known to your colleagues, think about your work environment and whether there might be a colleague there who can support you through the process.

“Typically, a lot of clients come out to one person first — someone inclusive or maybe LGBTQ,” said Clark-Miller.

Randstad’s van ‘t Noordende echoed these comments: “You go at your own pace with one person, then a few [people].”

To find out if a particular colleague can be an ally before coming out, try starting a conversation about social issues to gauge your response.

“If they’re educated about LGBT issues, then it’s a big open door. If they’re not, but they’re open-minded, it could be a good opportunity to educate them. If they’re not open, maybe it’s worth finding one.” different person,” said Clark-Miller.

Once you have someone on your side, cheering you on, we hope it becomes easier to plan your next steps; whether to tell your boss, HR manager or the broader team, added Clark-Miller.

There is no hard and fast rule for this, said Clark-Miller. However, she noted that many of her clients generally prefer to come out to a few people at a time, giving them the opportunity to deal with each of their responses gradually rather than all at once.

“Do it with the lowest possible pressure,” she suggested. “Typically, making an announcement to the entire team is perhaps more stressful and possibly unnecessary. Many opt for side conversations or sharing their pronouns if they are transgender or non-binary,” she added.

How employers can support LGBTQ employees

While the decision to come out at work should rest with LGBTQ individuals, employers also have a role to play in cultivating a safe and inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable expressing themselves and their sexuality.

This includes helping staff feel safe not only in their work but also psychologically, Clark-Miller said.

“Leaders can create this psychological safety by ensuring they have an environment where people can access them and be open. Saying this in advance in team meetings is very helpful in creating a sense of safety,” she said.

Likewise, bosses must understand what healthy boundaries look like, so employees can be as open – or not – about their sexuality as they wish.

Be in learning mode. This will set the stage for a much more productive conversation.

Anna Clark Miller

founder and coach, Empathy Paradigm

“If I don’t want to share my pronouns or my sexuality, that’s a boundary I can have. Forcing someone to cross that boundary is, in fact, the opposite of psychological safety,” Clark-Miller said.

Employers should also encourage employees to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable at work. This may not be something that crosses an official threshold, but something they find personally offensive. After all, “comments that are harmful to the LGBTQ community are not necessarily prejudice, but rather impoliteness,” said Clark-Miller.

“If people aren’t being encouraged to report these small lapses in judgment, the people making the comments may never know that what they’re saying is offensive. By creating this feedback environment, they can understand better,” he added.

Finally, when receiving feedback, employers should avoid becoming defensive, which can feel like denial. Instead, they must listen patiently and openly and be ready to find solutions.

“Be in learning mode. This will set the stage for a much more productive conversation,” said Clark-Miller.

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