To Be Out or Not To Be Out? That is the Question

Coming Out at Work

When completing my master’s degree I lived with three other roommates, all of whom were gay.  Being immersed in the life of three partially-closeted women gave me great insight into how challenging it can be to manage your personal and professional life.  Some were not ‘out’ with family but were at work or at school; some were only ‘out’ with a close-knit group of friends . . . This made managing how I spoke about my roommates very challenging, what information I could and could not share, to whom and when, when parents and friends called was a constant struggle. Thankfully, all three of my roommates have gone on to fantastically successful careers and are now leading lives where they are “out” in all contexts. I have been to two of their weddings (although all 3 are now married) and have the pleasure of raising my kids alongside one roommate who had twins just one year before my second child was born.  There were certainly many steps along the way that were challenging and infuriating, but the end result for all of them has been a happy, open life.

I would love to write a post on this topic that says that you should not have to come out any more than any heterosexual should have to come out; that you should be able to just exist as you are and that your personal relationships are of no more bearing on your career than anyone else’s.  That being said, I want to advise based on the realities of our world, not an ideal reality that may not exist, yet.

When reading some statistics on this topic that were published in the Harvard Business Review, I was feeling pretty optimistic:

85% of fortune 500 companies have protective policies that address sexual orientation

42% of closeted employees said they felt isolated at work verses only 24% of openly LGBT employees

52% of closeted employees felt that their careers had stalled, versus 36% of ‘out’ employees

Based on these numbers I was feeling pretty confident about recommending coming out at work.  Then I read the last statistic.

There are still 29 US states in which workers can be fired for being gay. WTF!!!

After a huge exhale and a few choice words, I re-thought what I should write.

Thankfully I live in a country where we have come a long way in promoting and protecting the rights of LGBT individuals and couples.  However, across the world and from one workplace to the next the reality is going to be dramatically different.  Because of this I would recommend taking a close look at governmental and company policies, paying keen attention to the attitude of your boss and co-workers and making a decision based on how you feel when you have taken all of that into consideration.

Another factor in the decision on whether to come out at work is not only the impact that it can have on your personal happiness but the affect it can have on your professional growth.  People are more likely to get promoted if they have good solid personal relationships with their colleagues and bosses.  Many people that are closeted at work go to great lengths to avoid conversations that are personal.  Because of this, you may be losing out on developing those strong professional relationships and may be more likely to be passed over for opportunities.  This is likely reflected in the statistic above regarding the percentage of closeted employees that felt their career had stalled.

I have had students in my office who have questioned whether or not they should include participation in LGBT campus organizations on their resume. My advice is that if you include it and an employer chooses not to hire you because of it; would you want to work at that company?   If you include it and a company sees it as an excellent example of your community involvement, event planning abilities . . . and they hire you based on that and all of your other accomplishments; would you want to work for that company? You should have your answer.  Plus, this makes the coming out process much easier as the message has been set at the outset of your employment.

However, if you want to break into an industry or company that is renowned for being conservative, you may not want to put that on your resume and may want to wait until you get the job to negotiate the tough decision of whether to be out or not.  Sometimes once people have an opportunity to get to know you and respect you for your knowledge and work-ethic it is easier to break down some of those barriers.

As much as I would love to say just live a completely open and out life, I know that there are many individuals that, based on their misguided beliefs, may hold it against you.  All you can do is make the best decision you can with the most and best information you can find and then, trust your instincts.

I would love to hear your insights and experiences with being out at work, so please post a reply to this post.

Lastly, to those of you who have come out at work and have helped to create a more open and inclusive workplace for all I want to say a big THANK YOU!  It is your bravery and determination that are making the future brighter for others.

Below are a couple more articles on this topic that you may find useful:

Coming Out

Seven Views of Coming Out at Work

Being ‘Out’ Brings Advantages

Published by lessstressedstudents

Clare Tattersall is the Manager of Undergraduate Services for the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Western Ontario.

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