For those that may not have seen my video with Cornell Verdeja-Woodson where we discuss how to support LGBTQ+ employees year round, I highly recommend taking a listen. Many organizations can still do a better job with different aspects we discuss within this video.
October 11th, in the LGBTQ+ community, brings about National Coming Out Day. A day when those of us that have come out (25 years ago to be exact in my case) rally support behind those that are ready to make the next step in their journey and we reminisce about our own stories. I’m happy to share a few funny ones from telling family and friends. June is another important month as we celebrate Pride season in cities around the world. A safe space where we can be our authentic selves surrounded by community support. Though it’s one month, we work at our jobs for the whole year and whether you’re part of the community or not, we must push for equality every day.
I’ll admit that it was hard to tell friends and family when I first came out but I found it even harder when I was ready to be my authentic self in the workplace. I’ve never come out day 1 at any organizations that I’ve worked for fear that once they know, I may not be offered the same opportunities or that I may be treated or seen differently. I think a lot has to do with conditioning that we have either experienced or heard from other members of the community where there’s a little trepidation about whether we should or should not come out. Looking back at every time that I have come out, I’ve been (and remain) very lucky! In my case, I have been awarded the same opportunities for advancement over and over, regardless. There is however, always that little voice in the back of my mind reminding you that “things could change”. And for others, in different areas of the U.S. or at different organizations, they may not have the same results.
Whenever you start interviewing or working with a new organization, you don’t necessarily know the organization culture, how they treat LGBTQ+ team members or how their policies/benefits have been written to include or exclude certain groups of people. If you identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, there are some steps you can take from pre-interview to being hired at an organization that can ensure the organization you want to work for are bettering their culture by making it more inclusive for everyone.
- Organization donating habits – You may be able to find these records as some may be public. Does the company donate to people or organizations that are fighting against the equality of the LGBTQ+ community (or equality in general?) If so, you may want to steer clear or if it’s a place you really want to work, bring it up during the interview if you feel comfortable doing so. The hiring manager may not have any answers or ability to change the outcome but if concerns are brought up, they could go back to the higher-ups and let them know that they could be losing great talent due to their donation habits. It also may spark a good conversation and may have them review their practices.
- Involvement within the community – Does the company speak up against bills that are being passed to limit the equality of LGBTQ+ people? Does the company support the LGBTQ+ community during pride month (a bare minimum – but it’s something) and beyond?
- Organization diversity report – What are the demographics of the organization when it comes to everyone from managers up through to the CEO and the board? Is there representation of the LGBTQ+ community? Sometimes this is not readily available online if the organization is smaller or does not divulge this information. It may be something you’d have to ask in the interview.
- Policies – What is the company’s code of conduct? What does its employee handbook state about harassment, discrimination etc.? Do the policies cover targeted misconduct against LGBTQ+ team members? Policies should be all encompassing so during the interview, make sure that no matter your background, the handbook covers you if anything happens.
- Benefits – Benefits can sometimes make or break an organization you want to work for. We all want amazing benefits when we sign on but we have to make sure they not only cover ourselves but the person we are in a relationship with. Will they cover your partner/spouse for medical/dental/etc. if they need to sign up? Do they offer maternity/paternity leave for LGBTQ+ team members?
- Organization diversity – If you couldn’t find this pre-interview, it may be a good idea to find this out during the interview process. If you’re not comfortable asking specifically for LGBTQ+ team members, ask what is the makeup of the team from managers up through to the CEO and the board. It doesn’t hurt to ensure there is diversity among those holding higher positions within the organization.
- Employee Interaction – Not all organizations may allow this, but see if you can speak to a non-hiring team member at the organization to ask them a few questions about what it’s like to work there. You may be able to find out how they treat LGBTQ+ and BIPOC with a couple of quick questions surrounding culture. Remember you need to feel like you would feel safe and included there as much as they want to see if you’re a good fit for the organization and its team.
- Organization Culture – If you couldn’t do this during the interview, speak to other team members about their experiences working at the organization. If there is another person from the LGBTQ+ community or a team member you click with, start asking the questions on how those have been treated, promoted, etc. You may find out you have a lot of allies at your organization including the organization itself.
- Advocate for yourself and future hires – If policies and benefits are not inclusive, speak up and stand up for your rights. Sit down with your HR and share how you feel about outdated policies and benefits and see what can be done to modernize or update to make them more inclusive to everyone. If your organization makes donations or allows volunteer time, speak up that they donate to local organizations doing the work for the community or give you time to assist those LGBTQ+ friendly organizations.
For any hiring managers reading this, please think about the above issues an applicant may face or consider. Creating a welcoming and diverse team helps everyone.
When you are ready to come out to your team members, do it. Don’t feel you have to do it during the interview process or on your first day. It’s YOUR story and YOU should be able to control when you feel comfortable letting other team members know. I’ve done it casually while talking about my weekend saying things like, “My boyfriend and I…”.
Coming out is never easy but many organizations are including more DEI training than ever before. Not only is training happening but the rise of Speak Up platforms like #NotMe that can help and support you if you experience harassment, discrimination, bullying, or even retaliation as a LGBTQ+ person while at work/work-related functions. Downloading the #NotMe app, creating your account and speaking up about something inappropriate that you experience or witness is easy, anonymous if you prefer and we are there to help – even if your organization is not a subscriber yet.
Have you come out at work? Want to share your story? Have any additional tips to add to this list? Please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find me on LinkedIn.
Lastly, a huge shout-out to NotMe Solutions for supporting me as I ride 545 miles over the course of 7 days from San Francisco to Los Angeles for AIDS/Lifecycle the first full week of June!