October 11 is National Coming Out Day.
At Pride in Our Workplace, we acknowledge that coming out is a lifelong journey. It is not a one-and-done declarative statement. It is the radical act of sharing your authentic self with others, and repeating that process with each new environment or group of people you encounter.
In an ideal world, coming out is a personal choice, detached from any external pressures or threats of judgment. Companies would abide by their promises to support LGBTQ+ communities, and adhere to the federal protections put in place to protect LGBTQ+ professionals from employment discrimination.
In reality, 38% of surveyed LGBTQ+ employees report experiencing harassment at work, with 67% of LGBTQ+ employees sharing that they have heard negative comments, slurs, or jokes about their community at work. This same study showed that 34% of LGBTQ+ workers have left a job because of how they were treated by their employer based on their sexual orientation or gender identity (Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law).
Coming Out At Work: Inclusivity Indicators
There is no one indicator that can guarantee how a workplace will react when someone “comes out.” Inclusion in professional environments is often informed by combinations of workplace culture, the effectiveness of employee support systems, and interpersonal relationships between colleagues. If you’re trying to gauge the inclusivity of your organization prior to coming out, consider the following:
✅ Signs that your workplace supports LGBTQ+ employees ✅
- Adoption of LGBTQ-inclusive initiates, such as pronoun inclusion in signatures, gender neutral language usage, and the presence of all-gender facilities
- Incorporation of diversity, equity, and inclusion training onboarding processes
- Messages of support and allyship communicated by company leadership year-round
- Existence of out, vocal LGBTQ+ employees and employee resource groups
- Feelings of mutual respect between coworkers
🚩 Red flags that can indicate a unsafe work environment 🚩
- Lack of LGBTQ+ culture, awareness, or visibly out employees
- Inability to find a public diversity and inclusion statement
- Organizational support of groups that harm LGBTQ+ communities
- Reports of slurs or microaggressions, whether or not they have been experienced personally
- Unrelenting gut feelings of being unsafe or disrespected
🌟 Best practices for coming out at work 🌟
- Test the waters. Ask your manager if your company has a diversity or nondiscrimination statement. Use the content of their response to decide if they’re aware of existing nondiscrimination policies. Use the tone of their response to gauge how comfortable they are speaking about DEI initiatives and diverse communities more broadly.
- Establish a central support network of colleagues. Protective policies can only go so far. Surround yourself with LGBTQ+ and allied employees who you know will have your back.
- Connect with others who have done it before. Reach out to your organization’s LGBTQ+ resource group or individual employees who are willing to speak to personal experiences coming out in your office. If you aren’t able to connect with an out employee in your organization, try turning to online networks of LGBTQ+ professionals for support.
- Communicate your boundaries. If you share personal information with your coworkers, take the time communicate if and when that information can be shared with others. By coming out, you may be opening yourself up to questions or projective conversations with colleagues. Know that you are not responsible for educating your peers, nor can you be expected to help others process their own relationships to the LGBTQ+ community.
Coming out in a professional setting can be an intimidating, but liberating experience. Wherever you are in your coming out journey, know that PIOW and the LGBTQ+ community are here to support you. We would like to thank PIOW Board Members Bryan Vermes, Cheryl Katon, John Basile, Karen Young, and Kiera Penpeci for contributing to this post.