Everything to Know About Coming Out at Work

Coming out as LGBTQ+ can always be difficult, but it can be even more so in the workplace. We will spend the majority of our lives there, and we spend more time with our colleagues than we do our own family. Which is why it’s so damaging that for some LGBTQ+ people, it’s the very place they feel they can’t be open and their authentic selves.

According to research by Stonewall, more than a third of LGBTQ+ staff (35 per cent) have hidden their identity at work. And, one in 10 black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBTQ+ employees (10 per cent) have been attacked at work because of their sexual orientation, or gender identity.

As an openly proud married lesbian couple, online (known as 'Wegan’) and offline, even we’ve found starting new jobs daunting. It's not that we don't like telling people, it's more the awkwardness of it all. These are people you see and speak to every day.

We’re both feminine presenting, which means we’re almost immediately viewed as straight in this heteronormative world. Personally, we’ve learned we like to drop in the fact we're gay before colleagues even have the chance to ask, "So what does your husband do?" This isn't to say that we'd walk around introducing ourselves like, "Hi, nice to meet you. I'm gay by the way!", but we find it helps to drop the 'lesbian bomb' as soon as we can.

Megan used to work in HR, and always tried to be a visible role model for others at work. She wanted them to know they could be open and accepted; and if not, that they knew who to turn to! She also liked reminding managers of the Equality Act 2010 - and therefore the uncapped compensation should an employee make a claim of discrimination or harassment.

So, here’s what you should know about coming out at work...

You can seek out inclusive workplaces

If you're worrying about a company not accepting who you are, then you have to question whether it’s the kind of company you really want to work for.

Look for one that is open and accepting, and where your career can thrive! Stonewall’s yearly research highlights the best companies to work for – check it out.

You may deal with ignorance

While we’ve personally not experienced outright homophobia in the workplace, we've had the occasional male colleague linger too long when looking at a photo of us on our desks. Other colleagues haven’t taken our relationship as seriously as our straight colleagues'.

We've also received comments from straight people who’ve said they don't see why we have to “flaunt” our sexuality at work. They’d often say that surely it makes no difference, and is nobody's business. Well, Barbara, remember when you bored us for 30 minutes, telling us how definitely your husband doesn’t pick his boxers up off the floor? In that instance you 'out-ed' yourself as straight. The difference is, you see nothing of it.

However, on the whole, we’ve managed to open up people's eyes, minds and hearts as we're often the first gay person that they have gotten to know.

How to decide whether it’s safe to come out

“Unfortunately discrimination still exists, and employees therefore need to plan ahead when thinking about coming out at work,” says Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion advisor at the professional body for HR, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “Things to consider might include - how supportive and inclusive is your organisation? Does the organisation visibly promote diversity and inclusion? Are there any sources of support for LGBTQ+ employees such as resource groups, or champions and role models that you can talk to about their experiences of coming out at work?”

Does the organisation visibly promote diversity and inclusion?

You may want to also ask: Is LGBTQ+ inclusion something senior leaders talk about in your organisation? Are there any policies reflecting support and protection for LGBTQ+ employees such as diversity and inclusion, bullying and harassment, or transitioning at work policies? Is the organisation recognised externally as an inclusive employer?, Claire explains.

And, if the answer for most of these questions is ‘yes’, then coming out should hopefully be a little less daunting. If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not sure’, look for evidence that’ll give you an insight into what impact coming out might have on your working relationships. She also suggests having a confidential chat with someone in HR if you’re unsure.

The impact of not being your true self at work

If you live an open life outside of work, it can feel horrible going back into the closet, even for a minute. And, the longer you leave it to come out, the more it can feel like you're living a lie.
“We believe people perform better when they can be themselves. Businesses with high-performing staff typically have inclusive policies, benefits that apply to everyone, and a workplace culture where diversity is not just welcomed but championed with credibility and substance at all levels,” says Darren Towers, executive director at Stonewall.

“Employers are at the front lines of driving equality in society; by working together, we can ensure that all LGBTQ+ people feel safe and accepted at work, home, and in their everyday life.”
And if you do experience homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or any kind of discrimination…

“Organisations need to ensure they have a zero tolerance approach, and any instances of such behaviour should be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” Claire says. “There should be clear and well communicated channels for reporting instances of bullying, harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This should mean individuals feel properly supported, and able to report such behaviour to their line managers or to HR. While some comments might feel like ‘banter’, it’s important to foster a culture of inclusion and to constructively challenge and educate your colleagues and clients on LGBTQ+ matters.”

Of course, it can be incredibly unsettling to experience this, so Claire suggests confiding in a trusted colleague throughout the process, if you can.

If you ever feel like you need any help or advice on coming out, contact Stonewall.

For LGBTQ+ relationship and dating advice, counselling and therapy, contact Relate

For sexual health advice, you can get in touch with LGBT Foundation.

*This article originally appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine

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