‘Be in learning mode’: How employees – and employers – can navigate to come out as LGBTQ at work


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

U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday to expand access to gender-affirming care and inclusive education, in a bid to fight a number of anti-LGBTQ state laws introduced across the country this year.

Still, in many places anti-LGBTQ discrimination remains rampant – not least, in some cases, in the workplace.

In the US, more than two in five (45.5%) of LGBTQ workers said they have been treated unfairly at some point in their lives, including fired, disqualified, or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 2021 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%) of LGBTQ workers said they have been targeted by negative comments or behavior from colleagues, according to charity Stonewall.

That, in turn, is driving an increase in employee turnover 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 that they work at a company where they feel comfortable expressing their identity, and two-thirds (65%) said they would leave their current job if they felt they couldn’t.

Meanwhile, how a company responds to LGBTQ issues also matters: more than a third (36%) said they would quit their current job if their employer didn’t 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 out himself, noted that he was not always a big advocate for LGBTQ rights early in his career, preferring not to make it a central premise of his leadership. But increasingly, he said, it is vital for leaders to speak out on social issues.

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

“But at some point, later in my career, I said ‘no, not only should I be out, but I should be out there more,'” he continued. “Younger people in every organization look to their leaders and they are looking for role models.”

How LGBTQ employees can come out at work

Of course, any decision to come out on the shop floor must be made by the individual, Van ‘t Noordende noted: “Organizations can do a lot, but in the end you have to jump, you have to take that risk.”

For those thinking about coming out to their peers, there are a few considerations that can help you do so, 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 are looking for and who can support you in this process? If you want to come out at work but haven’t come out of it in your personal life, it could be too big a first step, said Clark-Miller, who suggested coming out first to a loved one. .

Usually a lot of customers come to one person first – someone inclusive or maybe LGBTQ themselves.

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 report the issue to your HR manager before proceeding. But if instead you just want your sexuality to be known to your co-workers, think about your work environment and whether there might be a co-worker who can support you in the process.

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

Randstad’s van ‘t Noordende repeated those comments: “You go at your own pace with one person, then a few [people]†

To find out if a particular coworker can be an ally before you come to him, start a conversation about social issues to gauge their reaction.

“If they’re educated on LGBT issues, that’s a great open door. If they’re not, but they’re open-minded, that could be a good opportunity to educate them. If they’re not open, maybe it is worth finding another person,” Clark-Miller said.

Once you have someone in your corner encouraging you, it will hopefully become easier to plan your next steps; whether that’s your boss, HR manager or a wider team, Clark-Miller added.

There’s no hard and fast rule for that, Clark-Miller said. She noted, however, that many of her clients typically prefer to come out with a few people at a time, giving them the opportunity to treat each of their reactions gradually, rather than all at once.

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

How employers can support LGBTQ staff

While the decision to show up 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.

That includes making staff feel safe not only in their jobs, but psychologically as well, Clark-Miller said.

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

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

Be in learning mode. That 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 limit I’m allowed to have. Pushing someone to cross that line is basically the opposite of psychological safety,” Clark-Miller said.

Employers should also encourage their staff to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable at work. That may not be something that crosses an official line, but something that they personally find offensive. After all, “comments that are hurtful to the LGBTQ community are not outright bias per se, but rather a lack of education,” Clark-Miller said.

“If people aren’t encouraged to report those minor errors of judgment, the people making the comments may never know what they’re saying is offensive. Creating that environment of feedback helps them understand it better,” she added.

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

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

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