A normal day at work will at some stage involve a chat with your colleague by the water cooler/ printer/ coffee machine as to what your plans are for the weekend. For most, this is a very straight (pun intended) forward conversation: "The wife and I are going shopping for a new sofa" / "I'm going out with the girls as my boyfriend is away watching football!" / "I'm taking the girlfriend away for a romantic weekend as it's our anniversary." However if you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, (LGB) then these nonchalant conversations will have you filled with dread. Your first day at a new job will be made even more daunting: who do you put as your next as kin, what pictures do you put on your desk, and what do you tell them if they spot your wedding band. All of this is constantly running through your brain if you're not out as LGB at work and what that's actually doing is ensuring that you cannot be fully yourself and therefore be fully productive in your role. As the LGBT rights charity Stonewall advocate, "people perform better when they can be themselves" and I wholeheartedly believe that this is true.
As an openly out and proud femme lesbian at work, I slip under the radar of both the straight and gay community and experience 'femme invisibility' and the assumption of heterosexuality. I've experienced the scary moments of starting somewhere new and having to go through the whole process of every employee finding out that I'm gay (of course, the process never ends with inevitable turnover). I've sat with new female colleagues and had to listen to them talk (aka moan) about their boyfriends/ husbands and how useless they are at housework and all I can think about is how do I chime in and casually drop the lesbian bomb: "yeah my wife SUCKS at the washing too!"... Coming out is a personal choice, and some do choose to live their whole professional lives in the closet. Personally I've always lead by the mentality that I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. The sooner they know that I'm gay the better. As living a lie can take its toll, even if for a couple of days. The longer you leave it to tell your colleagues, the more it seems like a bit secret you've kept from them.
Of course, this isn't to say that I believe everyone should suddenly feel comfortable to be out about their sexual orientation. Not everyone is as loud and proud as I am (I run a YouTube channel and Blog, both entitled What Wegan Did Next, all about my love and life with my partner Whitney, and display pictures of us on my desk at work). So if you're questioning if you should come out as LGBT, perhaps analyse what's holding you back. If it's fear of discrimination (harassment or bullying) then this is covered by the Equality Act 2010 in the UK and it is unlawful to discriminate from recruitment to dismissal (along with an uncapped compensation, so yes businesses should really be concerned about getting diversity and inclusion right!) Have a look at your company's website and policies to see if they have a equality and diversity statement. They may even be featured in HRC's Corporate Equality Index or Stonewall's Workplace Equality Index. If you come out and receive negative reaction, then not only can you take action against this, but it may also put into perspective if this is the place for you. There will always be a company way more deserving to receive your talent, drive and passion if not. If you're not sure how to even say the words to a work colleague, then I found the best way to come out is either a) mention my partner and correct them if they assume a the opposite gender pro-noun. Normally the reaction is no biggy (though you get the occasional surprise / confused look) b) proudly display a picture of you and your partner on your desk. They'll soon get the picture. Literally. Even when they do ask if that's your sister...
With more and more celebrities coming out about their sexual orientation, it's a surprise that a recent study by Pride in London (2016) found that 74 percent felt the need to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay men fear that coming out will hinder their promotional prospects and the in changing ones behaviour they experience 'hegemonic sexuality'. There can also be the double glass ceiling for lesbians. However, let's look at the business case for equality and diversity within the work force, where Out Now's 2015 research found the correlation from being out and its impact on business; improving retention and thus savings in the millions of dollars.
If the recent Top 100 Out LGBT Executives doesn't inspire you to realise you can lead a successful career out of the closet, then here are a few reasons why I feel coming out as LGBT is important to you and your employer:
1. You'll lead a more fulfilling life
You'll no longer have to feel that you are living a life of shame. You don't need to hide who you are from your colleagues. You can openly contribute to the water cooler conversations and bring your partner along to work dinners. Let's face it, it's hard nowadays to keep a completely separate work/ life balance.
2. You'll be more productive at work
OUTstanding found that 85 percent of those that answered they are closeted at work found that they are wasting too much energy pretending that they are heterosexual. Furthermore, 61 percent said that subsequently, they do not work as hard for their company. When you don't have to spend time hiding who you are, you are free to be more creative and productive. Plus, it's proven that the more diverse a team is, the more innovative they are.
You can be a role model to others
You'll pave the way for other LGBTQ employees to come out, especially if you're in a senior position at work.
3. You can drive forward the diversity and inclusion strategy
If your company has a LGBT network, then perhaps join one or set one up if not. If your company is still small (you only need a few members) then make sure you inform HR of any suggestions you have to drive forward diversity and inclusion from the ground up and top down.
4. You can combat discrimination
If you come out and do face any form of bullying and harassment, make sure you stamp this out. Your company should have a zero tolerance towards discrimination, and if not, there's always the reminder of the Equality Act 2010.
5. You can be you.
Ultimately I echo Goldman Sachs's CIO, Marty Chavez, "Gay people are happier, healthier, and more productive if they feel they can bring their whole selves to work." However, please don't ever feel pressured to come out at work, or in your personal life. Everyone has their own journey and it starts from self-acceptance. There are many organisations out there that are ready and able to help, including Stonewall, LGBT Foundation, Glaad, Trevor Project, LGBT Switchboard.