Coming out as LGBTQIA+ poses many challenges in the corporate world, but with the right support and resources, it can be a rewarding experience.
For many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, being open about their identity in corporate America is an intimidating prospect.
46 percent of LGBTQ individuals remain closeted at work, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. McKinsey & Company reports that 15% of LGBTQ+ women and 30% of LGBTQ+ men feel that their sexual orientation could negatively impact their career advancement.
The organization’s research also shows that “stress increases when a person experiences ‘onlyness,’ or being the only one on a team or in a meeting with their given gender identity or sexual orientation.”
In addition, nearly 40% of the survey respondents said they had turned down a job offer or decided not to pursue a role because the hiring company did not seem inclusive.
It’s no wonder that coming out in the workplace is anxiety-provoking, as terminating an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity didn’t violate federal law until the June 2020 Supreme Court case.
"Fight for who you are, because you are unique and special."
According to CNBC: “While workers in about half the country were protected by local laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there was no federal law [until 2020] that explicitly barred LGBT workers from being fired on that basis.”
This landmark decision marked a turning point, prompting further acceptance and protection in the workplace. With greater awareness and inclusion, the hope is that the corporate world evolves into a safe space for all.
Apex Systems’ LGBTQIA+ employee resource group (ERG), Pride@Apex, hosted a community webinar to explore the challenges and successes of coming out in a corporate setting and how allies can support employees during this journey.
Advice for Coming Out at Work
For individuals struggling to come out at work, the webinar participants offered advice based on their own personal experiences.
Don’t be discouraged by having to come out more than once. “Coming out isn’t a one-time thing,” an ERG member explains. “You will likely have to come out multiple times, in multiple ways.”
McKinsey’s survey found that nearly half of respondents reported having to come out at work at least once a week. About 1 in 5 people had to come out multiple times a week, and 1 in 10 had to come out daily.
“It is a daunting task to come out in the workplace, as you have to come out over and over again,” an attendee reveals. “I'm tired because I've done it so much, but it's important for me to do.”
Don’t be ashamed of who you are. “Instead of trying to disguise who I am, I realized I don't want to work for a company that doesn’t accept me for who I am,” a Pride@Apex co-chair member says. “I let it be known at the interview that I am part of the LGBT community, and if they don't like it, they aren't a company for me. Apex was the first job where I was out from the get-go, and was loud and proud about it.”
Think of future generations. “Having hard conversations [like calling out bad behaviors at work] reminds me that I need to protect others so they have a road to walk, run, and speed on,” one of the participants explains.
“I want to make sure that it's not just about me,” a panelist mentions. “It's for the people behind me, or younger individuals who don't have someone to look up to.”
Recognize the highs and lows. “The journey itself isn’t just a straight ‘up’ trajectory,” a webinar guest explains. “You're going to have peaks and valleys. Know that's part of the gig as well.”
Embody your authentic self. “Be your authentic self and that will come across better than anything else,” an Apex employee says. “I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to bring my whole self to work. I continually advocate for all my friends to be themselves. You are great, let no one tell you differently. Fight for who you are, because you are unique and special.”
“I never thought I would be vocal and up front because I've always been afraid of what people might think, but then I got more confident as the years went on,” another participant mentions. “This is who I am, take it or leave it.”
“Just being myself is so nice,” an ERG member states. “I get to live every day as my own.”
Find a work cohort that’s there for you. “Surround yourself with support,” a Pride@Apex pillar lead says. “If you're freaked out [about coming out], go to your inner circle of work friends. People will fight for you for the sole fact that you're a human being.”
“In a corporate setting, there are people who are in your corner whether you realize it or not,” an ERG member states. “Remember that you are valued and important. There are many people that care about you that you might not even realize.”
Don’t let others define you. “You define yourself,” an ERG leader says. “You have the right to come out whenever you want. Don't ever fear that you'll be alone. You will find your people and where you belong.”
Speak up for yourself. “It's difficult when you work with clients that aren't the best at advocating for LGBT rights,” an attendee admits. “Sometimes you have to say, ‘That wasn’t okay, please don’t do that again.’”
“It's hard to have [tough] conversations,” another participant mentions. “I remind myself to take my power back. I can be me and still do a wonderful job. Why am I trying to help someone else keep their peace when I don't have peace in myself? That's devaluing myself, and I don't like to do that anymore.”
How to be an Ally to Coworkers
There are many ways allies like mentors, coworkers, and bosses can support the queer community in the workplace.
Don’t be silent. Even if you don’t know exactly what to say, at least say something, especially if you see a coworker struggling or seeking support.
“Sometimes you have good intentions, but you shut down because you don’t want to say the wrong thing,” an LGBTQIA+ ally explains. “But we've all gotten it wrong at some point. Perfection doesn't exist, so just be intentional with your actions. If you mess up, simply correct it and move on.”
Learn from others. “Have an open mind and be willing to talk to someone you don't know much about,” a webinar participant says. “Actively challenge the bias that you might have from prior experiences or things that you were taught. Nine times out of ten, people will be open to sharing their life experiences with you.”
Know you won’t always be right. “Allyship is never perfect. You get it wrong sometimes,” another ERG member states. “But being able to listen, advocate, and educate [is important] so everyone can communicate openly in a proper way.”
Hope for the Future
Being accepted and even celebrated in the workplace is an ongoing journey for LGBTQIA+ individuals. While progress has been made, challenges persist. However, there is hope for a better future.
A supportive corporate environment with leaders and allies who advocate for inclusivity are essential to create a workplace where employees can be their authentic selves.
Coming out in a corporate setting can be scary, but the pay-off in the end is worth it.
“We all write our own book,” an ERG leader says in closing. “Don’t be afraid to write a new story.”
Pride@Apex Leadership Team:
Co-chairs: Lucas Wempe, Carlos Simental
Pillar Leads: Kyle Fricks, Taylor Patrick, Catherine Stiles