How Employees and Employers Can Handle Coming Out as LGBTQ at Work


As LGBTQ Pride Month runs through June, efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion are once again in the spotlight.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order expanding access to gender-affirming care and inclusive education, in a bid to combat a number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the country this year. .

Yet in many places, anti-LGBTQ discrimination remains endemic, including, in some cases, in the workplace.

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

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

This, in turn, increases attrition among employees who feel they cannot be themselves at work.

In a June survey by LinkedIn and YouGov, three-quarters (75%) of LGBTQ respondents said it was important that they 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 is also important: more than a third (36%) said they would quit their current job if their employer did not speak out against discrimination.

Speaking to CNBC, the 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 absent himself, noted that he was not always a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights early in his career, preferring not to make it a central tenet of his leadership. But increasingly, he said, it is vital that leaders speak out on social issues.

“Honestly, I wasn’t a great role model, to be honest, at first,” he said last month. “I was out and doing my thing, but I never really talked about LGBTQ issues.”

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

How LGBTQ employees can hang out at work

Of course, any decision to come out in the workplace must, and ultimately rests with, the individual, van ‘t Noordende noted: “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 dating co-workers, there are a few considerations that might help you in the process, according to Anna Clark-Miller, founder and coach at Empathy Paradigm, a US-based LGBTQ mental health consultancy.

First, identify your support system. Who do you have in your personal life that you date that can support you through this process? If you want to come out at work but haven’t in your personal life, that may be too big an initial step, said Clark-Miller, who suggested coming out. out to a loved one first.

Typically, many customers go to a person first – an inclusive person or perhaps LGBTQ themselves.

Anna Clark Miller

Founder and Coach, Empathy Paradigm

Next, think about your motivations for coming out at work. If you want to respond to some discriminatory comments within your team, it may be best to first raise the issue with your HR manager before moving forward. But if instead you just want your sexuality to be known to your co-workers, think about your work environment and if there might be a co-worker who can support you through the process.

“Typically, many customers go to a person first — an inclusive person or perhaps LGBTQ themselves,” Clark-Miller said.

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

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

“If they’re educated on 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 don’t aren’t open, it might be worth finding a different person,” Clark-Miller said.

Once you have someone in your corner cheering you on, it will hopefully become easier to plan your next steps. whether it’s talking to your boss, the HR manager, or a larger team, Clark-Miller added.

There’s no hard and fast rule for this, Clark-Miller said. 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 process each of their responses gradually, rather than all at once.

“Keep the pressure as low as possible,” she suggested. “Generally, making a staff-wide announcement may be more stressful and may not be necessary. Many opt for side conversations instead or share their pronouns if they’re trans or non-binary,” a- she added.

How employers can support LGBTQ staff

While the decision to come out at work should rest with LGBTQ people, employers also have a role to play in cultivating a safe and inclusive environment where staff feel comfortable speaking up and talking about their lives. sexuality.

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

“Leaders can create that psychological safety by making sure they have an environment where people can come to them and be open. Saying that up front in staff meetings is so helpful in creating a sense of safety,” she said.

Likewise, bosses should understand what healthy boundaries look like, so employees can be as open — or not — about their sexuality as they want.

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’m allowed to have. Pushing someone to cross that boundary is, in fact, the opposite of psychological safety,” a said Clark-Miller.

Employers should also encourage staff to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable at work. It may not be something that crosses an official boundary, but something that they find personally offensive. After all, “comments that hurt the LGBTQ community are not necessarily outright prejudice, but rather lack education,” Clark-Miller said.

“If people aren’t encouraged to point out these small errors in judgement, the people making the comments might never know what they’re saying is offensive. By creating that feedback environment, they can understand better,” he said. -she adds.

Finally, when receiving feedback, employers should avoid becoming defensive, which can come across as denial. Rather, they must listen patiently and openly and be willing to find solutions.

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

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