Co-workers are like the friends you didn’t choose. Spending 8+ hours a day with the people you work with, you’re bound to share your life with them.
But imagine you felt you couldn’t share your personal life, express affection or talk openly about your partner without fear of discrimination, bigotry passed off as ‘banter’, or even worrying it could affect your career prospects.
At 383, we understand that bringing your full self to work is important, and we're proud that we've created an environment where our LGBTQ+ staff feel they can be their authentic selves, but sadly this isn't the case for all workplaces.
It's important for us to understand our privileges and biases, so as pride month comes to an end, I wanted to share my journey with being out in the workplace and how despite progress, there is still more we can do for LGBTQ+ members.
But, with some simple initiatives, we can make workplaces equal and safe spaces for all.
The experience of being LGBTQ+ in the workplace can be one of constant self-evaluation: Do you disclose your sexual orientation?
Being out in the workplace is a confusing space, whilst my identity doesn’t define me, it’s a huge part of who I am. There’s been several occasions in my career where I’ve questioned, “Should being a lesbian be something I share?”
And to make life harder, each new workplace presents a unique set of dynamics and attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals, leaving employees to navigate uncharted territories every time they change jobs.
I have to come-out all over again, which for any queer person reading this, we all know isn’t the most enjoyable experience. But I always hear about my colleagues' husbands and wives, their children, all these hetronormative life discussions, so I should be able to mention my fiancee who happens to be a woman, and it shouldn’t be any different right…?
But it is different. For those who can to be open about their sexuality, there can be a mix of emotions ranging from anticipation to anxiety about coming out.
For those who feel uncomfortable coming out, the decision to share their identity becomes an emotionally charged dilemma.
And, whilst there may be moments of joy and relief when colleagues show acceptance, support, and inclusion, as my hesitancy shows, the fear of encountering homophobia or facing implicit bias can instil heightened levels of stress and emotional exhaustion.
At 18, when I decided enough was enough, I was tired and I wasn’t going to hide my sexuality anymore. I took the leap of faith in trusting my colleagues at the time and shared a huge part of who I am.
And it has even been shown that coming out is actually good for the health of the individual. With LGBTQ+ people who are more open about their identities experiencing increased physical and emotional wellbeing according to study by University of Montreal.
Just the start
But for so many, coming out isn’t the end of the journey in the workplace. It can be just the beginning.
Dealing with things such as harassment, isolation and ignorance are just the tip of the iceberg and it is reported that in fields such as STEM, they could have lost over 100,000 viable employees due to anti-LGBTQ+ bias.
There have been occasions when being openly out in the workplace has been uncomfortable, awkward and disheartening. On one occasion, I went home crying because of all the blatant homophobia disguised as ‘office banter’. (Side note, I can take a joke. I’m self-proclaimed as the funniest person alive, but if your jokes are at the expense of someone’s identity, it’s not funny.)
But the sense of kinship I’ve found at 383 has not only allowed me to be myself, but do a better job too.
When I joined 383, the first thing I noticed was there were other openly out LGBTQ+ members, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
At that moment, I knew I didn’t have to reduce myself, relationship or sexuality anymore. I could give my whole self to my colleagues and not worry they’ll be whispering behind my back.
I have felt my most comfortable and have learnt so much about myself in my time at 383, but the most beautiful thing is I can flourish in my role because of this.
So how can we ensure everyone feels like I do and is able to be themselves, everyday, unashamedly?
Do better, be better
When it comes to being an ally to LGBTQ+ colleagues at work, if you can’t see it coming from leadership, it can start with you.
Being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is a powerful way to demonstrate support, foster inclusivity, and promote equality within the workplace.
And I have a few ideas for what we can do to support the LGBTQ+ colleagues in our teams.
Disclaimer: I, obviously, don’t speak for the whole community, but it’s important to recognise how we as individuals can look to support and create that ever-needed inclusive environment.
Take the initiative to educate yourself about LGBTQ+ issues, terminology, and experiences. Understanding the history, struggles, and achievements of LGBTQ+ individuals will help you become a more informed and empathetic ally.
Listen and learn
Actively listen to the stories and experiences of LGBTQ+ colleagues without judgement or interruption. Creating a safe space for open and honest conversations allows individuals to share their journeys and challenges.
Respect pronouns and identities
Respect and use the correct pronouns and gender identities for your LGBTQ+ colleagues. Take the time to understand and honour someone's identity - respect and validate their existence.
Challenge discriminatory remarks or behaviours when you see or hear them. Use your voice to advocate for fairness and equality.
Be mindful of microaggressions
Pay attention to subtle microaggressions that may unintentionally marginalise, or offend LGBTQ+ individuals. Small gestures, such as using inclusive language or avoiding heteronormative assumptions, can make a significant difference.
Be a supportive presence for LGBTQ+ colleagues by offering encouragement, affirmation, and validation. Actively amplify their voices, ask and seek their opinions and perspectives in meetings, discussions, and projects to ensure their inclusion.
Take part in LGBTQ+ initiatives
Engage in LGBTQ+ events, initiatives, and celebrations organised by your workplace. Show your support by attending Pride parades, diversity training sessions, or volunteering for LGBTQ+ employee resource groups.
Respect privacy and confidentiality
LGBTQ+ individuals may choose not to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity at work for various reasons. Respect their privacy and maintain confidentiality if they confide in you. Allow individuals to disclose their identity on their own terms.
Should being a lesbian be something I share?
In short, yes.
The reason I'm sharing all of this is because inclusivity matters.
I have worked in various sectors, with many being male dominated industries, and having to navigate them as an openly queer woman hasn’t been the greatest of times.
But we can change the landscape of the working community together. By implementing simple practices, workplaces can create an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals feel empowered and supported when they choose to come out.
And the benefits to all of us? It creates a workplace culture that celebrates diversity, embraces authenticity, and recognizes the inherent value that every individual brings to the table.
If you’re creating a space where your employees and colleagues feel their most comfortable self, you’ll start to see great things and new perspectives you may have not considered.
Our favourite LGBTQ+ resources
Want to do more but don’t know where to start?
Here are some great places to begin.
- The Gender Games
- Ace - Angela Chen
- The Book of Non-Binary Joy - Ben Pechy
- We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation
- This Book Is Gay
- Queer Up
- Heartstopper - Netflix
- Crush - Disney+
- Pose - BBC, Netflix, Disney+
- Disclosure - Netflix
- A Secret Love - Netflix
- The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson - Netflix
- Where have all the lesbians gone - Channel 4